This past weekend was Grand Prix Phoenix. My tournament was not too exciting, but my deck choice was a lot of fun. I wrote about Five-Color Control last week and did follow through with actually playing it. I have been testing the deck for quite some time and determined it had the best shot at doing well.
While decks like Dredge and Mono-Black aggro are powerful, I expected a heavier contingent of Burn this weekend, which 5cc has been demolishing online while Dredge and MBA can both struggle with it. If Esper were to show up in droves, all three of those choices are quite strong in that matchup, so I was safe there. If people had officially moved to the more creature-heavy aggro decks, 5cc might struggle, but I still expect the field to mostly consist of:
I am very happy 5cc in any of those matchups, so it just made sense to play what I have been working on and felt most comfortable with. I still had to work on the list a little bit before the weekend, though.
The plan was to fly into Las Vegas for a fun Thursday night leading to an early Friday morning where myself, Harry, Marc, and Lamppost were going to drive to the Grand Canyon en route to the venue down in Phoenix. The trip was well worth it, as the spectacle was awesome and humbling all at the same time—a great way to bring you back down to earth just before a giant Magic event.
I sat down that night and figured it was time to cut the bull and get down to business. I had to make a few decisions now that I had been stalling on. In my last article, I discussed how I was unsure whether Chromanticore was right for the deck. It has a natural weakness to much of the removal in this format. The popularity of spells like Warleader’s Helix is at an all-time high and Detention Sphere/Revoke Existence are everywhere.
I was sure that I craved the lifelink most, so I initially replaced Chromanticore with Blood Baron. Baron, while quite strong against those named cards, has some natural weak points in the format as well, especially because players know to expect it. If I had three slots to fill, Baron would make more sense, but as a one-of, I needed more resilience. It was time to get real and add Aetherling. There is a reason blue control decks have been relying on the card to win games for so long now, and I should not ignore that.
I still had some work to do on the sideboard, but my main deck was feeling pretty solid. I will talk about the board after, but here is what I registered:
The sideboard saw the most last-minute changes. I had a Centaur Healer in the board for awhile as it essentially served as the 5th Courser of Kruphix against aggressive decks. While my ability to cast him was reasonable enough, his impact was relatively low, especially for a deck that has access to basically any card. For the Grand Prix, I swapped the Healer with Blind Obedience which has a much larger impact on the game, especially against red.
I also cut back on Slaughter Games. Everyone seems to have an extreme opinion on this card, and yet few people actually take the time to think it. Here is your quick guide to Slaughter Games-
• It is not as good as you think it is when you first read it.
• That does not mean it is not good.
• You need to play this with a plan and know exactly what it’s for before including it in your sideboard.
• Slaughter Games is at its best against 1- and 2-card combo decks where it can remove essential pieces to the combo.
• Slaughter Games is not good when removing nonessential pieces to a deck. Not every deck has essential pieces, meaning Slaughter Games is bad against most decks. Mono-Blue, Mono-Black, Burn, R/G Monsters, and plenty of other midrange decks have no essential components that Slaughter Games naturally preys on.
• Slaughter Games gets added value when the contents of your opponents hand are known.
• Slaughter Games is good at preventing inevitability, such as in control mirrors.
This last point is exactly why I am playing the card. When an aggro or midrange deck casts Slaughter Games against Esper, they name Sphinx’s Revelation and hope the opponent doesn’t respond with one. The problem with this line is that the opponent can very easily win with Elspeth or Aetherling and you just took a turn off and discarded a card, making that even more likely. In a control mirror though, resolving one Revelation is not the end of the game. Instead, the game will continue until one play breaks through with a big Revelation or back to back Revs. Slaughter Games disrupts this plan by removing it altogether, presenting you with inevitability as your Revelations remain.
I had two copies for awhile, but because of how narrow it can be, it was not coming in against any deck without Revelations in it. This made for a clunky slot in the board as I had two cards being used for only one archetype. I decided to swap the second copy for Vraska the Unseen. Vraska helps me to control opposing ‘walkers and Detention Spheres while demanding an answer on its own, but more importantly, it has use elsewhere. I found myself bringing in the card against Mono-Black for example, just as additional control for Underworld Connections and the like. The extra mileage was all I was shooting for, so I would consider that a successful swap.
The only other exchange was a Sin Collector for a Thoughtseize. Having additional outs to Aetherling or Elspeth is pretty nice and that means I get to bring in two copies of Thoughtseize against matchups where Sin Collector is not the greatest, such as Mono-Black.
And while I put a lot of thought into each of these changes, there really wasn’t much to change in the grand scheme of things. Over the course of two or three weeks, I managed to fit in over a hundred games with the list and had been able to tune it relatively well. My 60 had answers to the most common format troubles and my 75 had answers to most everything else.
All It Took Was a Little Touch…
And then, as anyone who was watching the feature match from round 4 of Phoenix knows, Mending Touch…
If you had asked me what matchup was likely to be my toughest going into the event, I would have said aggressive decks with a lot of cheap creatures. To beat the Burn decks, all I had to do was play Courser of Kruphix or Warleader’s Helix and the game was over. My lands coming into play tapped never matters because there are no threats I need to deal with in a timely manner. Instead, as long as I gain some life or establish control before taking 20, I am good to go.
With aggressive decks, I am forced to answer threats that have lasting impacts. If my opponent plays three 1-drops in the first few turns, I cannot afford to play tapped lands and deal with them later. Instead, I need to start shocking myself to play my relevant cards as quickly as possible. Maybe that means Detention Sphere on turn 3 and then Supreme Verdict on turn 4. At that point, I have dealt with the immediate problem, but took 4 damage from my lands and the initial damage from each of those creatures. That leaves me passing the turn, tapped out, at something like 8-10 life. That is low enough that residual creature damage or clean-up burn spells can finish me off in no time. My life gain is still good in this matchup, but it is not going to take over on its own.
In round 4 of the Grand Prix, I played against one of these small creature decks. In fact, Naya Hexproof is probably the best of the small creature decks when it comes to punishing control. Despite winning game 1 fairly easy, playing around all of the sweeper protection can be a big pain in post-board games.
In game 3, I made sure to play around Boros Charm the entire game. At one point, I found myself in a situation where my opponent did not have the 2 mana necessary for Charm, and I didn’t need to resolve Verdict to survive—the perfect situation for my hand of 2x Supreme Verdict. The thought was that I would fire one off now, taking the mediocre 3-for-3 trade. The next turn my opponent would play a creature or two and I would use the 2nd Verdict to take out his last threats, leaving him with one or two cards in hand and me firmly in control.
I confidently attacked with my Courser of Kruphix for 2 damage, tapped 4 mana, cast Supreme Verdict, and then watched as my opponent tapped his lone Forest and announced Mending Touch on his Gladecover Scout wearing a Madcap Skills. He promptly untapped, played a freshly drawn Selesnya Charm on his guy and then emptied his hand with the Boros Charm I had been playing around, attacking my 11 life for one more than necessary. Mending Touch.
A couple of things hit me in the moments after that match. Losing with your sweet new brew on camera is never fun, as so many people will judge a deck’s strength off of those few moments and nothing more—but still, a loss is a loss. What was more clear to me then was just how far away Mending Touch was from my thoughts. I literally did not even consider it an option before casting that Verdict.
Mending Touch is hardly a popular card of course, and because of this, my brain just did not arrive there in time. Small choices or card inclusions like this can flip entire matchups on their head. I thought I was making a play that would lead me to victory in 90% of games, and yet all I actually did was 3-for-2 myself and tap out to lose the very next turn.
I realize this is an angle I have been taking advantage of for years, but it is nice to experience it from the other end every once in a while. I was beat by something I didn’t even remember was Standard legal. That’s refreshing. When Standard has hit its stale wall, friendly reminders that there is room to grow are certainly welcome.
Standard is going on the back-burner for me for awhile. Modern in Minneapolis is a month away with nothing Standard showing up until well after the Pro Tour is behind us, which is Block itself. This means a lot of formats are going to be important and Standard is not one of them, so outside of some random Magic Online battling, I will be focusing elsewhere.
That said, Standard looks like it has some room to expand and I am glad to see some people moving in that direction. As Journey into Nyx continues to be spoiled, I hope that even more new and wacky decks will start popping up. In the meantime, Modern awaits! Thanks for reading!