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The Moore Report - Pro-Tour Brussels Review

The weekend just past was a treat. Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir in Brussels was great to watch. I hope you all got a chance to see some of the coverage, but if you didn’t, well, that’s what I’m here for! I’m going to go through the decks that made top eight and review them for standard moving forward. This should give you an idea of what to plan for in the coming months with the various PPTQs popping up around the place. Before I do that, I want to remind everyone of the double PPTQ weekend hosted by Hobbymaster at the start of May. It’s going to be a great weekend of Magic, with $500 CASH going to the winner of each event. I really hope to see some players from around the country make the trip up for two chances at RPTQ qualification.

We’ll start from 8th and work our way up. The first on our list is Andrew Ohlschwager’s Blue-Black control deck, seen here. When I first saw the control decks from this top eight, I was shocked at the number of dragons featured. Traditionally, control decks have 3-4 win conditions, but these have eight or more! When you look at the list, however, it makes a lot of sense. Four of Ohlschwager’s dragons have hexproof, making them very hard to kill, and Icefall Regent kinda has it too. Additionally, the main board-wipe effect, Crux of Fate, will most of the time be set to the mode that doesn’t kill dragons. What this means is that Andrew can spend a turn casting a win condition a lot earlier than you would normally choose to do so in a control deck. In fact, it might be more apt to call these decks “dragon midrange” than control, since your normal sequence in the middle of the game is going to be slamming huge flying beasts onto the table – with a reasonable amount of certainty that they’ll stick around. The fact that your main board sweeper can be cast either before or after you cast your game-winning threat is huge, because it means that there is a bit less of the classic tension in control, which is that you’re quite pressured to draw your cards in a certain order to win matches. I’m also very impressed that Dragonlord Ojutai can even go digging for a wrath effect. Very different indeed!

Looking at specific numbers, I’m a little surprised that Andrew only had two Dig Through Time. Dig has established itself the premier draw spell in standard, and I can’t help but think that only having two might leave him without the required card selection to close out games. He does have a Dragonlord’s Prerogative and a Sign in Blood too, but the other control decks are packing Jace’s Ingenuity in large numbers, so it’s not as though those cards put him ahead. Anticipate is a card that I wasn’t initially impressed with, but after seeing it played I’m a little more sold. Andrew was actually the only Blue-Black player in the top eight playing them, however, which is telling, but I suppose having four can give you a bit of leeway in the Dig Through Time department. Andrew has twenty six lands, which I think is one land too few, especially considering the fact that you can play Haven of the Spirit Dragon, but again with four Anticipate you can probably cheat a bit there too. The main attraction to this deck for me is the “dragon enabled” cards, Silumgar’s Scorn and Foul-Tongue Invocation. In this deck, with eight dragons, you’re very likely to be able to turn Scorn into actual Counterspell, and gain four life off your edict effect, which is excellent. Overall, Andrew’s list seems very good (I mean, he did top eight a pro tour with it, right?) and I expect decks very similar to this to be all over standard in the near future. From the results, it seems that if you’re interested in beating this style of deck, the hyper aggressive Red-Green deck is where you want to be. However, I can definitely see a more “pure” control deck that eschews dragons and dragon enabled cards for traditional spells like Dissolve, which preys on these dragon decks since they can largely nullify the effectiveness of the dragons themselves. It’s interesting to me that the place where the hexproof dragons are most vulnerable is on the stack, so I’d expect this weakness to be exploited by hard-core control fans.

Moving on, we have Thomas Hendrix and his Red-Green devotion deck. The card that has resurrected this strategy is clearly Dragonlord Atarka. A huge 8/8 for seven that also machine-guns the opposite side of the board is very powerful, and these decks are keen to get her into play as soon as possible. Apart from Atarka the only new addition to devotion is Shaman of Forgotten Ways. This isn’t insignificant, however. The Shaman provides a huge boost to mana production in the early turns, which is exactly what you want in a deck trying to ramp to seven mana, and the formidable ability on him is not only possible, but probable with all of the devotion lying around to fuel Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Shaman demands an answer, lest its controller untaps with Biorhythm mana, which is great because the more threats you can present your opponent, the more pressure their removal is under to deal with them.

Thomas’s list is very straightforward – lots of four-offs and a few spicy one-offs thrown in for flavour. I really like Arbor Colossus in here, and think there should probably be more in the 75. It’s great for devotion, and after this pro tour there will be a lot of fliers running flying around, so the monstrous ability will be in high demand. Traditionally, these decks have a weakness to control; especially ones that include discard alongside their removal and counterspells. It can be hard for them to keep up with the card advantage generated by control decks, and it’s very unlikely that they’re going to be able to win quickly to fight against that.

Next up is Abzan Control, piloted by Marco Cammilluzzi. This deck is basically the Abzan midrange decks we saw in constructed as soon as Siege Rhino became legal, with a few key differences. Those midrange decks had cards like Sylvan Caryatid and Anafenza, the Foremost, smaller creatures that were there to speed up the deck or just as decent efficient threats themselves. This deck attempts to go over the top by eschewing those for more efficient removal in the form of Ultimate Price and higher numbers of Abzan Charm and Hero’s Downfall, and filling the top end with more Elspeth, Sun’s Champions and Tasigur, The Golden Fangs. I’m never really sure how to place these non-blue control decks. To me, having access to counterspells is an important part of the control strategy, because fighting cards only once they’re on the battlefield (and to a lesser extent while in an opponent’s hand with Thoughtseize) can be too hard to accomplish, especially in this day and age when there are planeswalkers and  cards with built-in card advantage once they resolve.

As far as his list goes, it seems good for what it’s trying to do. Having little experience in strategies like this, however, I can’t go much further than that. I can however say that it seems quite easy to fight this strategy. With the abundance of lands that enter the battlefield tapped and a lack of early plays, a hyper-aggressive red deck with tokens gives this deck nightmares – and this is exactly what we saw in the top eight of this pro tour.

For the last of the quarter finalists we have New Zealand’s own Jason Chung piloting a Red-Green deck he borrowed the day before the event. Before I talk about his deck, I want to congratulate Jason on his finish. Jason is doing amazingly well right now, and we all have him to thank for putting New Zealand Magic on the map and showing the world what we’ve got (we might as well start clutching his coat-tails now). Well done, sorry you couldn’t quite get to Platinum, but it’s an amazing finish that you should be really proud of.

This deck could not be more straight-forward, and I assume this is why Jason chose to play it. You’ve got three things in this deck: Creatures that attack, spells that burn faces, and lands to cast them. I’m a bit surprised that it only includes one Haven of the Spirit Dragon, since it’s so good at making sure your hand is always threat-dense, but it’s possible that the mana can’t really support it. Again, I’d like to see some Arbor Colossus in this list somewhere – probably the sideboard. They’re great in the mirror and will help out against the pesky Blue-Black dragons trying to steal your permanents. Having said that, #PlummetForPresident. This seems like a deck that doesn’t really have too much of an issue with match-ups in general, it just needs to draw well and “get there”. Clearly Jason was able to “get there” enough times to make it to the top eight, but I don’t know what that says about the deck in general.

In fourth place we have Adrian Sullivan’s Blue-Black control, which is vastly different from the one we saw at eighth. Instead of dragons and dragon-related cards, Adrian’s take is more like the Blue-Black decks we we’re used to seeing prior to Dragons of Tarkir’s release. The deck itself is fairly standard, but it does have some really nice one-ofs that give it a bit of extra play in practice. Having access to Drown in Sorrow, Crux of Fate and Aetherspouts is a nice way of forcing your opponent to play around cards you may or may not have. Silence the Believers is a nice option that does its best Utter End impression while giving you the additional utility in being able to target more than one creature.

As I said earlier, I think this deck might have the edge in the control mirror, since not having to make room for dragons lets you pack in more ways to kill dragons. It’s a shame that the brackets in the top eight didn’t give us the opportunity to see whether that is in fact the case. Again, I think if your aim is to beat control decks like this one, your best bet is to be as fast as possible. Don’t leave home without your Monastery Swiftspears.

Next on the list is Ondrej Strasky’s Red-Green Devotion. This is a very similar list to Thomas Hendricks’, with one big difference: See the Unwritten. Whoa boy is this card a beauty. As I mentioned before, Red-Green devotion decks can run out of gas, especially with all of the mana creatures needed to support the late game. Because of this, you really need your top-end to deliver in terms of making up the cards and winning you the game. We’ve seen Genesis Hydra, we’ve seen various red and green planeswalkers, but we hardly ever see See the Unwritten. It’s definitely great here, though. Once you get past the fact that you can just miss (unlucky but definitely possible), you start to see some of the huge turns you can make by casting the sorcery. The best has to be hitting Dragonlord Atarka and Surrak, the Hunt Caller. Making an 8/8 flier that eats their team then attacks for eight on the same turn? Crazy. The weakness of this is, of course, that you already need to have a big guy in play to enable the ferocious, and this can be difficult in some match-ups. Over all though, I know the devotion players were going around saying how crazy Atarka was, and any card that can look through eight cards to find one (plus a friend if you’re lucky) is great in my books.

Not much else to say about the list, though I’ve clearly shown how much I love a good Arbor Colossus, and Ondrej obliges me with three in his sideboard.

In second is the deck I’m sure a lot of us wish came first. Shota Yasooka always turns up with these awesome brews, and he didn’t disappoint with this Blue-Black control list. I won’t comment on his list, other to say that I like it, because Shota is a lot better at Magic than me and if you like his deck you should play it exactly as he has it.

Sigh. This is the moment I’ve been dreading. The moment Atarka’s Command takes over standard. Thanks Martin Dang, thanks a lot. This is the deck he used to become pro tour champion, and while it’s not my speed, it’s clear how good it is. “Going under” has always been a viable strategy, to some extent, and Dang has fully embraced it here. There are some fairly well known faces here, between Foundry Street Denizen, Monastery Swiftspear, Goblin Rabblemaster and Hordeling Outburst, but we’ve got some spice and new additions from Dragons rounding out the list.

Zurgo Bellstriker is an obvious inclusion, and fits right in here as a 3-of. I’m very interested in how good thatone Frenzied Goblin was. I struggle to remember a time when that card was good in limited, so I’m surprised to see it here. Maybe it was a meta-game call – if it was it clearly paid off for him. I really like the inclusion of Dragon Fodder, to bolster the tokens plan alongside Hordeling Outburst. Tokens in a deck like this are quite good, and not only because they let you cheat on Stoke the Flames mana. Tokens are a lot harder to control, from a removal point of view. It’s a lot easier to justify Hero’s Downfall in your control maindeck than it is Drown in Sorrow, for example. Downfall, after all, kills everything, right? Well, it only kills 33% of a Hordeling Outburst. Because of this (and similar deck choices from other opponents) I’m sure Dang was able to extract some crucial points of damage from those 1/1s over the course of the tournament. Four Wild Slash isn’t something we’ve seen before, and I’m not super excited by it, but it does provide a cheap way to pump Swiftspears, and hey, maybe that ferocious trigger will come in handy one day. Finally, I have to say, I love that one Become Immense. Become Immense is the epitome of a sweet one-of. It’s not fighting with any other delve cards, and when you draw it it’s completely busted. It was really exciting seeing it take down a game in the quarter finals, and I’m sure the surprise factor of that card came into play a lot over the weekend.

To fight this deck you really have to lean on your sideboard, which is a bit gross. In general, the worst match-up this deck has is probably the Red-Green dragon decks which are just further a little up the curve than it, but even then I can easily see games where that deck gets overwhelmed. The best strategy is probably just to make sure you have healthy numbers of Drown in Sorrow, Wild Slash, Arc Lightning, Virulent Plague, Bile Blight, Anger of the Gods or Seismic Rupture in your sideboard – and draw them a lot after game one.

That covers it for today folks. Standard should be full of the decks from this top eight in the near future, and rightly so. The moral of the story has to be: come prepared with dragons or for dragons.

 

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