Testing with Team ChannelFireball: The Pantheon is great. Not only do we have some of the best players and deckbuilders in the world, but it is also a great group of people to just hang out with for a couple of weeks. Everyone works toward the common goal of performing well in the Pro Tour and my teammates have so much talent, it’s a great recipe for success. I am always extremely happy when any of us make Top 8 and do everything I can to help the team do well.
There were nine of us coming early to Hawaii on the Monday a week and a half before the Pro Tour this time with the rest of the team arriving on Friday. I don’t play much Magic anymore outside of the 2-3 Pro Tours every year, so it always takes me some time to catch up. Fortunately everyone else had already been working hard and communicating their thoughts on the format through our mailing list.
It was clear from the start that the Theros Block cards and especially Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix would be a major factor in this new Standard format. Khans being a multicolored set only made it more likely that the mana fixing these cards would bring would be hard to pass up on and both Courser and Caryatid would easily fit into the green shards. Early testing and discussion revealed that there were three dominant archetypes within the green Courser decks:
- Abzan had lots of new powerful cards with Siege Rhino, Abzan Charm, Utter End, and Murderous Cut all fitting perfectly in the midrange shell that curves up to Elspeth, Sun’s Champion with which Patrick Chapin had won the Theros Block Pro Tour in Atlanta.
- Red/Green monsters got Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Crater’s Claws from Khans of Tarkir as well as the option to splash for some of the more powerful Temur cards like Savage Knuckleblade and Sagu Mauler.
- Then there was Green Devotion. Though it didn’t gain too much from Khans it did lose some of its most powerful enemies after the rotation. With Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation leaving the format, the deck’s worst matchup (blue/white control) was severely crippled. Though End Hostilities was still a problematic card for the devotion deck we expected a lot less control than there was during the last year and a half when those cards were legal.
We tried building lots of decks with the main goal of beating the various Courser lists. We tried Jeskai Ascendancy combo but ultimately deemed it too inconsistent. We tried Mardu aggro and though it put up good game one results it was too easy to beat after sideboarding cards like Drown in Sorrow and Anger of the Gods. We tried Jeskai tempo, but it just didn’t seem powerful enough. Mono-Red was inherently weak against Courser and Caryatid. Blue/black control was the most promising non-green deck we found as it was the best Dig through Time deck (a great engine card for any controlling deck) and though some of us ended up playing it, I ultimately decided it was not powerful enough and too much had to go right to win—always having the exact right answers at the exact right moment—that I didn’t want to play it.
That brings us back to the green decks. All three versions had their advantages and disadvantages. After lots of testing and running a mock tournament, Reid Duke decided he was going to play Devotion. I had liked the deck a lot from the start, and getting confirmation from someone as great as Reid made it an easy decision to follow his example. The deck has a good matchup against Red/Green Monsters and does well against Abzan if they don’t have End Hostilities. We also didn’t expect a lot of control and as End Hostilities and Perilous Vault are the two best cards against the deck we figured it would be well positioned for the metagame.
We tried several different versions. We tried splashjng red for Crater’s Claws and Xenagos, the Reveler. We tried a blue/green version that used Yisan, the Wanderer Bard to search up Prophet of Kruphix. We tried a mono-green version that was a little more consistent and had Nessian Game Warden to keep you going when you had lots of mana.
Eventually we settled on a version that splashed black for Doomwake Giant for a number of reasons:
First of all the card is great against aggro decks. A lot of the aggro decks play a large amount of 2/1 creatures for one and if you could stall enough with your mana creatures and Courser, a turn four Doomwake Giant would often wipe their board.
Second, Doomwake Giant is a good card in the mirror. Getting rid of Elvish Mystic or Insect tokens from Hornet Queen is very useful. Reid had also added several copies of See the Unwritten so we could put multiple enchantments (and possibly Doomwake Giants) into play at the same time, triggering constellation and effectively creating a one-sided Wrath of God. Pharika is a big part of your mirror match strategy as well, also triggering constellation while gumming up the ground with an army of deathtouch Snakes.
The third reason to add black was that it allowed us to board in Thoughtseize and Stain the Mind, both of which are excellent against the deck’s worst matchups: Jeskai Ascendancy Combo and control decks with End Hostilities or Perilous Vault.
This is our list on Thursday night, there will likely be some last-minute changes, but the final list should be very similar to this:
Setessan Tactics is mainly for the mirror match, as well as other green decks against which a ground stall can be expected.