Because I was at Gen Con, I didn’t get to watch the PT live, but I enjoyed looking over the written coverage (nicely done, Corbin Hosler) and rooting for people.
No matter how well written the actual text coverage, my favorite part is looking over the lists that went 8-2 or better, which tell the story of the tournament better than sentences and paragraphs ever could.
GW Aggro by Brian Kibler (9-1)
This is my favorite of Kibler’s lists in recent memory.
All of the best creature-based aggro decks have ways of mitigating flood, and GW has a few mana sinks at its disposal. Nissa finds a land for those sinks while also being yet another way to power through flood in the late game.
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is good at grinding and it’s great at breaking through. Whether you’ve reached a board stall or find yourself racing, Ajani breaks parity by boosting a Den Protector. I like it over Collected Company because it takes up fewer slots while giving a more consistent, versatile effect.
My absolute favorite part about this deck is the sideboard. The Hangarbacks are a head scratcher at first. If they’re great against other attacking decks, and great against decks with sweepers and removal, and we aren’t running any Collected Companys to act as a nonbo, then why aren’t they in the main deck? The answer is that RG ramp is a powerful deck. Kibler correctly identified it as the deck to beat, and that Hangarback doesn’t fit his plan for the matchup.
Unravel the Aether turned out to be a genius sideboard card in a field where UR Ensoul Artifact was the breakout deck.
RUG by Philip Arcuni (9-1)
RUG occupies a lot of the same space as RG Dragons, and to be honest it wasn’t on my radar at all, but it has its strengths. For starters, Savage Knuckleblade increases the number of ferocious enablers tremendously, allowing for a solid 4 Crater’s Claws. In this deck, Claws is basically a modal spell that’s either a shock against aggro or the sweetest Fireball of all time.
The rest of the tradeoff is fairly intuitive. RUG features a worse mana base than RG, but gets access to counters that make the ramp and control matchups much stronger.
The real trick to Philip’s list seems to be the maindeck Roasts and Anger of the Gods, which are ways to slow down the ramp deck long enough to finish the job. Anger is particularly non-intuitive since it eats your own Elvish Mystics and Rattleclaws, but having one in game 1 can win the game on its own (especially against Mono-Red).
Mono-Red by Stephen Neal (9-1)
Stephen Neal is from the Madison area, and he worked with some of the best red mages around (Jasper Johnson-Epstein, Aaron Lewis) in his prep for this Pro Tour.
One nice thing about the burn-heavy version is that it isn’t as vulnerable to Bile Blight and Drown in Sorrow as the old Hordeling Outburst decks, though it’s still weak to cards like Arashin Cleric, Nylea’s Disciple, and Foul-Tongue Invocation. In fact, being able to better handle the Burn matchup might be why there were a few Esper Dragons control decks near the top of the standings.
Abbot has generated a ton of buzz, and for good reason. At nearly every stage of the game, Abbot is what you want. On turn two, it’s an aggressive 2-drop that takes advantage of your burn spells, and after that it helps find you more burn spells. I thought Ire Shaman would do something similar back when it was first spoiled, and to be fair it has shown up in a few sideboards, but for the most part it takes a little too much effort to get value out of, and Abbot’s prowess is a big deal.
Exquisite Firecraft is worse than Stoke the Flames, but since Stoke the Flames is your best card that’s not much of an insult. Firecraft fits the burn curve, helps you reach a critical mass of high-powered burn spells, and provides some counter-proof inevitability against blue-based control.
The miser’s Molten Vortex is giving me painful flashbacks of Mr. Neal destroying me with it in Limited. Here, it’s a fine 1-of against the control decks, a single mana, easy-to-resolve investment that mitigates flood and eventually just wins the game.
UR Thopters by Ian Farnung (8-2)
The Chicago team was one of the groups that independently developed UR artifacts.
One of the main differences from the Pro Tour lists and lists that people were throwing around during spoiler season is that no one’s playing 4 Pia and Kiran Nalaar. While the card is good, the legendary status matters, and it’s not like it can sacrifice itself. Once people realize how good Whirler Rogue is at making your Ensoul Artifact 5/5 unblockable, it’s natural to lean towards the heavier blue card and have a slightly better mana base for it.
Of course, Pia is still good, and a couple activations plus Shrapnel Blast is a whole lot of reach. In the end, I like what Ian did here where he has access to Pia, Rogue, and Thopter Spy Network in the main deck. They’re all good value 4-drops, but they feature drastically different abilities and I would usually rather draw a mixture of them than all of the same card.
While most people agreed on the shell of the deck, there were a few slots that were contentious:
0-1 Ghirapur Aether Grid
0-3 Wild Slash
0-3 Thopter Spy Network
0-4 Keeper of the Lens
0-4 Phyrexian Revoker
0-4 Stubborn Denial
0-3 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
1-4 Whirler Rogue
0-2 Stratus Dancer
0-1 Collateral Damage
- Most people played 2-4 Phyrexian Revoker.
- 4 Whirler Rogue was more common than 1.
- Roast is an interesting answer to Ensoul Artifact that also takes out Chief of the Foundry, and I imagine that the person who maindecked it had his eye on the mirror and RG ramp.
- I don’t hate the Keeper of the Lens, as it’s a rare 1-drop that can both carry an Ensoul Artifact on turn two or interact with the artifact creature buffs later on. Even though most of the better-performing lists didn’t have it, it’s possible that’s because people missed it.
- As I mentioned last week, Annul looks like a better sideboard card than usual.