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Arena Diaries #2 – All That Glitters

CURSE YOU GABRIEL NASSIF!

Three Agents of Treachery are in my graveyard and I just used Lukka’s minus 2 on a token. This is the turning point. I’m going to win this Jeskai Lukka mirror, just need to steal an Elspeth Conquers Death before it brings my opponent’s Agent back. 

Lukka does nothing. I look at him, resplendent beside his tiger companion. I’m pretty sure he looks back at me and shrugs.

I’ve just changed up my deck to match Nassif’s list, which took him deep into top 8 at the MagicFest Online Season Finals. What I didn’t do was look over it closely. My previous list had four Agents. His does not.

Nassif Jeskai Deck List - James Keating

I’m aware this is my own fault but in the moment, it’s all his. I lose and drop back to Diamond three. I’ve been going up and down like this for hours. Jeskai Lukka may be the best deck in the format, but not in my hands.

I saddle up for something simpler in cycling. It doesn’t get better. Honestly, the cycling deck is powerful, but it suddenly feels so inconsistent. I can’t get a Zenith Flare when it’s all I need to win. I keep one-landers and don’t see a land in 17 cards. 

At this point I’m tilted. A combination of variance and my own stupidity has rattled me into misplay after misplay. It’s probably time for a break, but I’m so close to Mythic. I just need to chain a few wins together and I’ll reach the promised land. 

Maybe I’ll fare better with PVDDR’s Bant Yorion. 

PV Bant Yorion Deck List - James Keating

This deck feels strong, but very slow. I lose to Mono-Red so fast I barely register it happened. Jeskai Lukka destroys me in the next game. All my bad beats, horrible variance and hard luck karmically balanced out in the hands of my opponent, who hits Agent on turn five both games. 

I can’t keep doing this. These plodding 80-card decks are miserable in mirror matches. 

I’ll just get back to Diamond 2. That’s an achievable goal. I digitally sleeve up Ivan Floch’s Temur Reclamation list and rejoin the queues.

Floch Temur Rec Deck List - James Keating

Things finally start to click. Reclamation is a deck I’d played for a long time. I know the paths to victory, I get the sideboard plan and I can see just how powerful an addition a shark token is for it.

A few quick wins against Yorion decks later and I’m back at the bottom of Diamond 2. 

I felt like aggro was the best choice, but I didn’t have the wildcards for Mono-Red, so I scoured the web for answers.

Streamer Ashlizzlle had posted a pair of lists that got her into Mythic a couple of days before and both of them piqued my interest. One was a Sacrifice list, which I hoped would be good because I love Sacrifice decks. Mayhem Devil forever. 

The other was less exciting, but it did have something going for it – I didn’t need much in the way of rares and mythics to play it. Aggressive white weenie auras didn’t look powerful, but I trust better players not named Gabe Nassif.

I started with Mardu Sacrifice and it felt exactly like Sacrifice decks had felt for the last few weeks. Weak, underpowered and unable to keep up with the top tier lists. This Mardu version also left me short a color too often.

Ashlizzlle Sac Deck List - James Keating

I wanted it to be good so badly, but it just didn’t work for me. It was time to channel my inner Craig Wescoe and play White Weenies.

Ashlizzlle Weenies Deck List - James Keating

Almost entirely commons and uncommons, much like the Cycling deck, this pile of absolute nonsense turned out to be ok. I won my first match with it easily; so smoothly in fact, that I put it down to lucky draws and my opponent getting mana screwed.

After a second match I realized I had underestimated this beast and it was far more than the sum of its parts. 

Starting off with a Healer’s Hawk or Gingerbrute, the plan is simply to stack auras on a creature. Glaring Aegis, Sentinel’s Eyes, Solid Footing and All That Glitters combine to turn a 1/1 into a lifelinking vigilant monster. 

Toss in Gods Willing, Karametra’s Blessing and Alseid of Life’s Bounty to protect the threat and you have an evasive powerhouse. Lurrus recurs most of the deck too, so it doesn’t just fold to sweepers. 

I won three more matches, making it five in a row and putting me a single match win away from Mythic. Five straight wins is about as good as I’ve ever done playing Magic, so a sixth seemed unlikely; and with this budget brew? No way.

My chest tightened as I clicked ‘play’. This could be it. I was excited to make Mythic, but the pressure felt real. I was knocking on the door, begging to join the Magic Arena Good Player’s Club TM

Game one was easy, unbelievably so. I just piled auras on and beat face. Game two required some thinking, but there was a moment when I realized I was thinking many turns ahead, figuring out how to loop Alseid, force damage through with a small attacker and find lethal as fast as possible. 

I felt like a good player.

The plan worked. I chipped in for 4 damage a turn and protected my creature, always leaving mana open, playing safe, knowing the route to victory and knowing the opposing deck. All that practice had paid off, I thought, as my opponent’s avatar exploded. 

I made it.

Then I lost three matches in a row at Mythic – with Jeskai Lukka. So I’m still mad at Nassif. Guess it’s going to be tough at the top.

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