The Moore Report - Worldwaking In Wellywood
A few weekends ago I was down in our nation’s capital for a huge weekend for Magic. Joe and Mark from Cerberus Games had organised a situation where one of the last (if not the last) PTQs and their PPTQ could occur on the same weekend. Doing that was great because it meant that anyone wishing to travel from out of the city could justify the expense as they’d have two shots at winning something big. While I would have preferred a team event on the Sunday, to defend team Chocolate Ripple’s Undefeated Wellington Streak, having a PPTQ instead was pretty awesome.
Before the tournament, I was struggling with my deck choice. On the first weekend of the new format, I had brewed up a green devotion deck that splashed red for removal and was focussed around the combo of Nissa, Worldwaker and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Basically the idea is that you use Nissa to ramp and make 4/4s, then cast an early Ugin and exile everything. This will leave behind your 4/4s because lands don’t have a colour, and hopefully your Nissa too if your opponent doesn’t have anything worth exiling that costs more than 4. The combo was very potent in the games I executed it in, but the trouble with the deck was that ramping into Ugin with mana creatures and Courser of Kruphix just isn’t that good, since if you don’t draw Nissa you end up with 4 lands and an Ugin on 2-3 loyalty who usually receives a Stoke the Flames or Lightning Strike within a turn-cycle. It was fun, but just not that good. If anyone is interested in this type of strategy (i.e. a version that is actually good), there was a break out green/black devotion deck that topped out with Ugin at the first StarCityGames tournament of the new standard format, which you can find here. This version seems a lot better as it has a solid card draw engine backed up with the extremely powerful Frontier Siege, but it does have the same issue that ramp into Ugin “–X” by itself isn’t a viable game-plan.
Speaking of StarCityGames, there was another deck that broke out at their first Fate Reforged standard tournament: this one. What a thing of beauty. Gerard Fabiano has been known to build strange decks with weird numbers, and this one is no exception. When I first looked over the list, my knee-jerk reaction was to cut the Rakshasa’s Secret straight away. Why would I want to play a limited unplayable in my standard deck? But I resisted the urge. I did what any magic player should do when trying out a new deck that they didn’t design: play it where it lays. Everyone wants to feel like they’ve contributed to the deck building process in some way, I get that. Maybe they swap out a card in the main-deck or change up the sideboard to fit their predicted meta-game, whatever. I understand that it feels boring to copy a deck from the internet and just play that at a tournament. I don’t necessarily agree, but the person who designed the deck has probably spent a lot of time on those weird numbers, especially if they did well. It might seem very strange that there is exactly one Polukranos, World Eater in the sideboard, but rather than changing the deck blind, you should always try it out first. Play some games, get a feel for the match-ups, and try to work out the plan behind the card. It might turn out that it’s exactly the card you needed, but the reason for that need was just very subtle.
I can say that after trying out Rakshasa’s Secret, it’s one of the last cards I’d cut from this deck. The Mind Rot effect is very good in multiple match-ups, like blue/black control and Jeskai Ascendancy decks (combo and regular) as they generally need all of their cards to beat you, and the self-mill basically amounts to two Lotus Petals for later when you draw your Dig Through Time or Murderous Cut. That’s one of the huge benefits of this deck - it enables delve probably better than any other deck I’ve seen in standard. I’m pretty sure the only times I cast Dig Through Time for more than UU were specifically the times where I chose to do so, barring a few notable exceptions where I didn’t draw any wayfinders or secrets and I was under a lot of pressure. Being able to Dig consistently for it’s lowest cost is incredibly powerful, and it allows you to catch up in the mid-game, setting up for your most powerful spells in the late game.
Apart from the erroneous Mind Rots, I did question the Polukranos myself, as well as the Feed the Clan and Rakshasa Deathdealer. These were all quite strange choices, but I forced myself to play his deck card for card first, and the cards all performed a lot better than I had anticipated. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My flight down was at 6am on Saturday morning. This is not a pleasant time to travel. Not only is it actually not a real time and everyone is still asleep, but Carls Jnr. t the airport isn’t open. I strongly feel that if your flight doesn’t coincide with the opening hours of this restaurant you should rearrange your itinerary. How are you supposed to get in an aeroplane without having a Big Carl first? Inconceivable. Regardless, this is the choice I made, so I had to live with it. Usually when you fly from Auckland to another city for Magic tournaments you can expect some number of players to be on your flight, so you have someone to talk to in the departure lounge, but clearly nobody else was stupid enough to book this flight so I found myself alone. This worked out fine, however, as I was able to pack an extra few minutes of sleep into my trip.
It was a lot colder in Wellington than Auckland, but that’s usually the case because all of Wellington seems to be some kind of giant wind tunnel. Luckily I had planned ahead and gotten myself horribly sun burnt the day before, which kept me warm while I waited for the flyer bus into the city. After some Macca’s, a quick taxi to Thorndon, a few borrowed cards (why did nobody have an Interpret the Signs?!) and we were ready to go for the PTQ!
I sleeved up Gerard’s seventy five, partly because I’d tried out his wacky cards and found them good, but also because I felt that if I changed even a single card I’d have to change a bunch of other cards to get configurations right. For example, if I cut Polukranos, that would probably make Feed the Clans worse, so would then have to cut one for a Negate, but that wouldn’t come in against hyper aggressive decks, so I’d probably have to adjust another card in the sideboard to compensate. Better to trust in someone who is better than me at Magic than try to change a bunch of things, I thought. Long story short, the deck performed admirably. It didn’t feel like a control deck – not in the traditional sense. I’m struggling to think of another deck that compares, but it’s tough. There was a lot more synergy and critical sequencing than I thought there’d be, and consequently there were various complex and important turns that I played awfully because I wasn’t prepared for the amount of ordering that would be involved. Luckily, Dig Through Time can bail you out of poor play, so I got some value out of that.
I ended up exiting the tournament at an unimpressive 3-2 drop. I do feel that my play could have been better, but I’m also not sure if there’s anything I could have done in the matches that I lost. My first loss came at the hands of blue/white heroic, but it felt very close. Basically in the 3rd game I needed my opponent to have one or two less protection spells, or to draw Stubborn Denial first and be forced to try and use those before their men got bigger than 3/3s, but that’s not how it turned out. My second loss was to my now arch-nemesis, Ka Wing. Ka Wing was playing green/red aggro, which I feel is a tough match-up. Their threats don’t necessarily match up that well against your answers, since not many of them really have inherent card advantage, but heaps of their creatures have haste, which can cause you problems. If you don’t have the right removal spell in hand, you’re probably taking at least 4 damage, and if this continues over the course of the game you can eventually just get Crater’s Claws’d out of the game, which is near enough to what happened. They also do have access to planeswalkers like Xenagos, the Reveler and Sarkhan, Dragonspeaker which can cause you headaches. Also, your method of stabilising and taking over requires tapping out for a huge planeswalker, and a clever green/red opponent can just sand-bag a Stormbreath Dragon or Xenagos for you when you do. I think it’s winnable, but I’m not sure that I knew the right configuration of post-board cards. Whatever the answer is, the result was that I got smashed.
After we watched Auckland-based recent pod player Xin unfortunately lose in the finals (and by watch I mean I left and Jason told me about it later), we broke for dinner. I was staying with Chris Sharpe, who had just moved to Wellington, so I got to catch up with him which was really cool.
Sunday morning arrived, and I decided to stick to my guns. I felt that the deck was very good, and I just needed to play with it more to get better at the sequencing and I could do better. My result was a little better, but ultimately just as disappointing. After 5 rounds I was 4-1, with my loss coming at the hands of eventual winner David Williams on red/white aggro. It was a 6 round tournament, so I was hoping to ID into top 8, but unfortunately there were 2 players who had 10 points, so if either of them won their matches they’d be in, and one of the 4-1s with worse tie-breakers would be out. I can’t remember my opponents name (sorry mate), but I believe he was a Wellington player. He dispatched me in two games with green/red aggro (there’s that match-up again), I wished him good luck in the top eight and that was that. While I could say that I got unlucky regarding the players on ten points and my match-up for the final round, I do remember making a few mistakes in that last match that definitely could have cost me, so rather than dwell on being unlucky I’d rather just work on improving my play.
Again, I felt that the deck was very good, and at this stage I can’t advocate any changes to the 75. I’ll go over some of the common things I’ve heard, since I do have some opinions based on my experience. The first is that I’ve heard a lot of people wanting to move Tasigur, the Golden Fang from the sideboard to the maindeck. In my opinion this is a mistake. Tasigur was an amazing card for me every time I played him, and two in the sideboard is absolutely correct in the sideboard. However, the reason that he’s in the sideboard is two-fold. The first is that you already have a lot of ways to win the game in the maindeck. All of the Planeswalkers are capable of winning the game for you by themselves, and you can find multiple via Dig Through Time, so having Tasigurs is unnecessary and would make the deck clunky. You want to sideboard him in when you’re boarding out the planeswalkers that are bad in the respective match-ups, or in place of removal that’s bad against control decks. The second is that he is a huge magnet for removal spells which will be exclusively used for Tasigur in this deck if you play him in game 1. If you leave him in the board, it means that in game 1 your opponents are going to be stuck with Chained to the Rocks and Bile Blight in their hand. If you don’t present them with anything to cast those cards on, they’re almost obligated to sideboard those cards out, making it safe for Tasigur to lounge on his throne eating bananas on the battlefield. Leave the pale-skinned grape-eater in the sideboard and you’ll have a good time.
Another theme I’ve come across is the overwhelming scepticism of Feed the Clans. It doesn’t seem great on the surface, I agree with that sentiment. However, I feel it does exactly what I think you want it to do in the right match-ups. Remember how I talked about the green/red match-up being tough because after you stabilise the damage has already been done? Well, with this card, you can undo a lot of that damage. ten of it, to be exact. It allows you to keep playing without the fear of a top-decked threat out of your opponents deck, which is exactly what you need in a match-up like that. I’ve heard criticism that you’ll hardly ever trigger ferocious, which is reasonably close to correct, but to counter that point I’d say that you don’t really need to. Five life is like negating a Stoke the Flames and gaining a life, which for 2 mana seems like a pretty good rate to me. The 5 life is fine, and I think is enough to keep you in games, and I think the 10 life should more be considered along the lines of “if this happens you can’t lose”. The general theory behind the card is that it allows you to stay in a game a little bit longer, which hopefully lets you cast more Dig Through Times. I like casting Dig Through time, so I’m going to keep the Feed the Clans for now.
The last one I hear a lot of is “isn’t blue/black control just better?” To that I say “I don’t think so”, but I’m not certain that I have the definitive answer. I can tell you that Satyr Wayfinder actually reads “1G, gain 3 life during combat, draw a land, cast Black Lotus”, Sultai Charm is excellent and destroys Grindclock, and the sideboard options that you get are all excellent. The mana is a little worse, but Kiora, the Crashing Wave and Garruk, Apex Predator are both huge threats and line up very well with some of the more popular threats in standard. The Garruk vs Ugin battle in particular is interesting. Garruk comes down and can +1 to kill Ugin, but for Ugin to kill a Garruk that’s in play it has to -7, meaning that it goes to the graveyard as well. If Ugin becomes a big part of the metagame, I believe Garruk will too, just because of how well he battles Ghostfire dragon.
Overall I think the comparison is unfair, since the strategies are different enough that the comparison doesn’t make that much sense, but I do wish I was able to play the four Dissolve that blue/black is able to. Apart from that I think the card quality in sultai is better, but that could just be my opinion.
That’s all I have to say for today. Thanks to Joe and Mark for running an insane weekend of Magic, thanks to Wellington for being a great place to visit, thanks to all the Magic players I’m privileged enough to call friends, you guys make going to these things worth it and are generally awesome, thanks to UV rays for keeping me warm and congrats to the two winners, Matthew Little and David Williams. They were both playing Stoke the Flames decks, by the way, which should tell you something about the format and give you an idea of what to pick up if you’re looking to play standard in the next few weeks. Have a great long weekend, and may your wayfinders never miss.