The first deck I set my sights on when I turned my attention to Standard was RW. My usual method for testing for Grand Prix is to pick a deck that I think will allow me to play good games—I look for things like consistent mana and draws. I really enjoy close games of Magic—they allow you to pick back up some of the lost win percentage from not playing the very best deck, so I try not to worry so much about whether one deck is a little bit better than another.
Sometimes the deck that offers this just isn’t good and then I usually move away from it and start looking for another deck to test, or if there isn’t much time left before the tournament, then I will go to my friends for help or advice on what to play. Luckily for me, this wasn’t the case with RW. Right from the beginning the deck felt great. You have some very good matchups against basically any aggro deck and while you are definitely an underdog against control decks the games always feel very winnable.
Overall I think RW has a much better matchup against Abzan Aggro, UW Heroic, and Mono-Red than Abzan Control or UB/Sultai Control have against you, and more importantly the deck was offering exactly what I wanted—close, grindy games. With lots of good cheap removal and cheap threats, you don’t generally win or lose based on whether they answer one of your cards. You play a lot of really close, really fun games that come down to the last cards you draw or they draw, and exact amounts of damage. I was hooked.
I started with Sam Black’s list from Worlds. Ever since I saw him play it I always thought the deck was sweet. The first change I made to the deck was to remove the Monastery Swiftspears. I think now that you have Outpost Siege as your primary win condition, the deck shouldn’t be viewed as an aggro deck. That’s the biggest jump I made with the deck. Everyone else played Stormbreaths main deck, and I think that is a huge mistake. Stormbreath is a great finisher for an aggro deck and a horrible one for a control deck, specifically when you’re using Outpost Siege.
Normally you fall a little behind when you spend your 4th turn playing something that doesn’t impact the board at all, so what you are looking for on the next turn is to play multiple spells to catch back up, or you would want a 5-mana card like End Hostilities that levels the playing field.
Stormbreath, on the other hand, is a great aggressive card. Flying, haste, and the ability to go monstrous give it to the ability to end games very quickly. That’s not giving you much value when you are drawing 2 cards a turn off an Outpost Siege though, because if you have that going you don’t need to end the game quickly. Basically, the longer the game goes, the higher chance you have to win if you draw two cards a turn. This is an area that can be confusing because it sounds like Stormbreath killing them too quickly would be a good problem to have. Of course if you play a turn-4 Siege then kill them with a Stormbreath quickly that’s a good thing and not a problem. The problem is that Stormbreath isn’t great at helping you when you are behind—it doesn’t gain life, and if you are using it to block then haste is irrelevant and flying is nowhere near as useful.
Basically, if you’re aggressive then it doesn’t get better than Stormbreath from a 5-drop, but a deck with Outpost Siege wants a defensive 5-drop to exploit the inevitability that Outpost Siege gives you, and not an aggressive one to try and end games quickly. I did still include them in the sideboard because there are matchups where you never really fall behind, like against any control deck. They are still great against those decks because they end the game so quickly.
Sometimes I even board in some number in the mirror. They always feel very mediocre, but they do attack from a different angle—so if your opponent brings in Erases in game 2 then I’m much more inclined to bring in the Stormies, because killing them with one while they are holding an Erase is great. You can play a little cat and mouse game here. Board out 1-2 Siege for 1-2 Stormbreath for game 2, then more or less depending on what you see.
The other big change to the deck was cutting Raise the Alarm for Soulfire Grand Master. Where not playing Stormbreath was all my doing, this one was purely based on advice from the other people I was talking to about the deck. Specifically, the combination of Luis and Pat talking about how bad Raise the Alarm is and Neil Reeves talking about how good Soulfire Grand Master is. I think there are incarnations of the deck where this swap would be really bad, like Sam’s original deck which used Raise the Alarm tokens to trigger Wingmate Roc’s raid ability. But now that you are an Outpost Siege deck you have great inevitability against almost everything, but you have to make sure you don’t fall too far behind or die before you can use all those extra cards, so the life gain from Soulfire Grand Master becomes invaluable.
Red/White Control, by Ben Stark
The deck ran very smoothly for me so I wouldn’t make many changes unless they are for a specific metagame.
Mastery of the Unseen was Neil Reeves’ anti-UB Control technology. They were extremely good against UB Control, but much less good against Abzan Control and Sultai. I wouldn’t run them again right now because I expect to face all 3 of these control decks, but if I expected to primarily play against UB Control then I would definitely consider them. Ashcloud Phoenix is pretty good against all 3 control decks, so that’s what I would probably run instead.
In the Swiss rounds of the tournament I went 9-2-1 in the matches I actually played. I did also beat the brains out of the 3 byes I had. I chose to really take advantage of them by flying in Saturday morning—I landed at 12:15 and got to the site around 1 p.m. which was around 30 minutes before the start of round 4.
I went undefeated in the mirror in the Swiss which I attribute to great draws, and not having Stormbreaths main, where they are even less good than post-sideboard. No one maindecks enchantment removal, so you would much rather only have Outpost Sieges. I think I played against it 5 times and went 5-0
I wouldn’t say I got absurdly lucky or unlucky with the pairings, because I never played any of the 3 best matchups for the deck (Abzan Aggro, UW Heroic, and Mono-Red) but I did play the mirror 5 times, where I think I had a big edge.
I avenged my Swiss losses to Abzan in the Top 8 and semifinals by beating Chris Fennell and Steve Rubin. I still feel like I was an underdog in these matches, but I just drew a little better than they did and had some key cards when I needed them. As far as the finals against Sultai, I have no idea how that matchup is. I had never played against that deck before and haven’t played against it since. I did get extremely unlucky the way the games played out. Game 1 I didn’t have a Mountain to cast double-Chained to the Rocks on his guys, so I had to burn them and attack Garruk with my Seeker. If I just had a Mountain I would have been able to burn him and attack him, clearing the blockers out of the way with the Chained to the Rocks and I would have won that game.
I think that’s the first time on turn 4 or later in the whole tournament that I had Chained to the Rocks but no Mountain so I’m in no position to complain, but if it could have not happened there that would have been great. Game 3 he missed a land drop and didn’t Drown away my Seeker, so I thought he didn’t have Drown. I then played a Rabblemaster and he traded Satyr Wayfinder for the 1/1 instead of chumping Seeker which further made me think he didn’t have Drown (what I think at this point is fairly irrelevant anyway because I already committed the Rabblemaster to the board). He then untapped and Drowned. I think he topdecked it, but I don’t really know. After that he proceeded to start hitting land drops, had the answers to my threats, and up from there pretty easily. If he doesn’t Drown in Sorrow that turn though I think I’m a pretty big favorite to win since he falls pretty far behind and my hand was great.
It would have been nice to get 1st especially for the 2 extra Pro Points—at 32 I’m right in the hunt for Platinum but still need every point I can get. 2nd place is a great finish though and I’m very happy with it, and appreciative of how fortunate I was to get it.
Thanks to everyone who helped with the deck and everyone who was cheering for me. I always appreciate all the support.