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Not A Tournament Report – Las Vegas Invitational *Top 8*

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And I meant it.

When I said that, well, I felt like I didn’t have a lot to say about the SCG Invitational in Vegas. I thought maybe I didn’t deserve much of it—I only qualified on points by playing in a million billion opens, and I hadn’t played a match with my Standard deck before round one. Actually it’s worse than that. I hadn’t won a game with my Standard deck but I had played several, against Josh Ravitz with UW. These games consisted of me playing an [ccProd]Ash Zealot[/ccProd], returning it to the top of my deck a few times, and conceding. I went into the tournament hating that card a little bit and without much confidence.

RW Devotion in Standard

I didn’t start off hating the deck. When I was looking for a deck to play, Robb Miknus’ Rw devotion deck caught my eye. I didn’t want to play something that outright lost to [ccProd]Blood Baron[/ccProd] in the weeks after GP Dallas-Fort Worth, so the combination of [ccProd]Mizzium Mortars[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Stormbreath Dragon[/ccProd] appealed to me, and I liked the sideboard plan against control decks for the Invitational specifically (but more of that below). Mostly, there wasn’t anything out there that really grabbed me, and after watching Josh play a few UW mirrors online I was sold on not doing that.

After the Invitational, I was completely in love. Even [ccProd]Ash Zealot[/ccProd] was in my good graces after watching Huey tap for RR and gravely announce “the Ash Father” while goldfishing at dinner. What I really like about this deck is that even though it has some awkward draws—the comical Nykthoses number three and four come to mind—you don’t need anything close to a perfect draw to win. And with 40 or so MODO matches under my belt, I feel like I had something to say about the deck.

The most common question I’ve gotten is about how to sideboard, or, “lady, what are you doing with those Warleader’s Helices”?

This is the sideboard I played at the Invitational:

2 [ccProd]Assemble the Legion[/ccProd] 4 [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd] 2 [ccProd]Wear // Tear[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Anger of the Gods[/ccProd] 3 [ccProd]Warleader’s Helix[/ccProd] 1 [ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd]

I wanted to mention that this sideboard is really gunning for Esper/UW. We bring in 8 cards (and generally win game one), which is about where I wanted to be given the usual Invitational field. As it happened, this plan worked out (and I was lucky enough to be paired against Esper/UW four times in eight rounds). That’s not quite representative of the field, but it’s still safe to assume that there will be more control at an Invitational than an Open or even a PTQ.

Since then, I’ve made the following changes to the sideboard:

-3 [ccProd]Warleader’s Helix[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Mizzium Mortars[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Chandra, Pyromaster[/ccProd]

I think you really only want the Helices against burn, which even on MODO isn’t especially common, and without them I am 2-0 against the deck although the games felt tight. I think you could play them against Mono-U and I did bring them in against BW aggro, but I don’t believe they are really impressive or worth the slots, and match up poorly against [ccProd]Judge’s Familiar[/ccProd] in particular.

I wanted another Chandra for two reasons. I think the card is good against Mono-Black, where you are trying to stress their Downfalls after board, and where you are generally weak against [ccProd]Desecration Demon[/ccProd]. Chandra helps against Demon because it helps to dig for a [ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd] if you are behind, and if you are ahead lets you find an additional creature or prevent blocking. In addition, I expected to play against the mirror at least a bit online, and having more Chandras seems like an okay plan as your “real” plan is just to try to have more and better Dragons, Mortars, and Shrines.

The other Mortars is a concession to the fear with which we should all consider 4 [ccProd]Blood Baron[/ccProd] decks, and another nice card to max out on in the mirror where it is your only answer to opposing [ccProd]Stormbreath Dragon[/ccProd]s.

I added the [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd] because I wasn’t sure what the card should be, I felt I wanted another anti-aggro card without [ccProd]Warleader’s Helix[/ccProd], I was pretty scared of [ccProd]Master of Waves[/ccProd], and I thought it might be nice in the mirror. I haven’t played against much Mono-Blue so I’m not sure how good or terrible that matchup is, and as a result haven’t played many [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd]s, but there’s nothing else I’m dying to get into the sideboard so it stays for now. In fact, I think we could cut back on [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd]s if we wanted room, but so far I’ve felt like I had enough cards for basically every deck and it’s not always easy to make cuts.

We are kind of a combo deck, in the sense that we need both enablers for our devotion cards (mainly RR two-drops), and things to do with our mana. This makes it tough to take cards out when sideboarding as we need to keep both halves of the deck somewhat intact. In general, there are a couple rules:

1. Against a deck that is much faster, you can take out [ccProd]Hammer of Purphoros[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Purphoros, God of the Forge[/ccProd], although I still like Chandra against [ccProd]Daring Skyjek[/ccProd] decks.

2. Against decks that disrupt your devotion, Fanatic is your worst card.

3. If you’re bringing in [ccProd]Anger of the Gods[/ccProd], you can take out some [ccProd]Ash Zealot[/ccProd]s and save them the trouble.

Sideboarding

Against Mono-Black, I board like this:

In

+2 [ccProd]Assemble the Legion[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Chandra, Pyromaster[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Mizzium Mortars[/ccProd]

Out

-4 [ccProd]Fanatic of Mogis[/ccProd] -1 [ccProd]Ash Zealot[/ccProd]

Fanatic is at its worst against decks that disrupt your devotion, and as you can imagine Mono-Black does that quite well. The games are pretty grindy, and [ccProd]Assemble the Legion[/ccProd], [ccProd]Purphoros, God of the Forge[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Chandra, Pyromaster[/ccProd] are your best cards. I want to take out non-Emissary x/2s because of [ccProd]Pharika’s Cure[/ccProd], but we still need some Zealots so that our [ccProd]Nykthos[/ccProd] draws aren’t atrocious and because Zealot is punishing against their hands with multiple [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd], [ccProd]Underworld Connections[/ccProd], or [ccProd]Erebos, God of the Dead[/ccProd].

My experience has been that it’s easier to lose to [ccProd]Desecration Demon[/ccProd] than [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd], and as such you should consider that Demon is a likely follow up if they play a [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] into your known removal. I’ve also been playing around [ccProd]Pharika’s Cure[/ccProd] with [ccProd]Frostburn Weird[/ccProd] aggressively because after sideboard you can make it a dead card. It’s ok to keep mana-heavy, Temple-heavy hands in this matchup because the top of your deck is safer than your hand, assuming you can cast what you draw.

Against Esper/UW, I board like this:

In

+2 [ccProd]Assemble the Legion[/ccProd] +4 [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd] +1 [ccProd]Chandra, Pyromaster[/ccProd] +2 [ccProd]Wear // Tear[/ccProd]

Out

-4 [ccProd]Boros Reckoner[/ccProd] -3 [ccProd]Chained to the Rocks[/ccProd] -1-2 [ccProd]Mizzium Mortars[/ccProd] (unless you suspect 4 [ccProd]Blood Baron[/ccProd])
-0-1 [ccProd]Fanatic of Mogis[/ccProd]

This is a little more subjective. You have to think about what they are bringing in and hedge against a likely more creature-heavy deck after SB. Chained is usually bad-to-horrible, but if they [ccProd]Archangel of Thune[/ccProd] you, you may want to try keeping one. If they [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd], it’s really not that bad because against [ccProd]Pack Rat[/ccProd] decks you are already keeping some Mortars in for [ccProd]Blood Baron[/ccProd]. If you see a bunch of Blood Barons, Fanatic gets better and we can cut Zealots instead.

All your non-creatures are great in this matchup. It’s awesome if you can trick them into using a [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd] on a creature because their Spheres are very very taxed, particular in UW as they can’t lean on [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Hero’s Downfall[/ccProd] to help out. I want to play enough creatures to force a [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] before playing a first Dragon, and then to have exactly one Dragon in play afterwards unless you have a [ccProd]Boros Charm[/ccProd] and mana up. Don’t be afraid to keep a slow hand if you have multiple good cards. For example, Hammer and 2 Dragons. We don’t have to win fast, we just have to present a few durable threats.

One final thing I’d like to note is that we do indeed have some awkward draws, particularly those with just two lands including one [ccProd]Nykthos[/ccProd]. During the Swiss rounds of the Invitational, I was mulliganing these hands on the play. Sam Black politely pointed out that it’s probably crazy to do so if you have some two-drops, as once they get going these hands are quite explosive and you can make up for effectively losing a turn or two. If you tend to mulligan over-aggressively as I do, leave this particular kind of sketchy hand alone.

Legacy

And now, just like in the Invitational, we move on to Legacy. A number of people have asked why I chose to play Jund without the [ccProd]Punishing Fire[/ccProd] “combo.” The answer is part personal preference—my own aversion to losing in particular ways—and part my estimation of the Invitational field.

The first part is easy. Jund in Legacy is a deck that wants exactly one [ccProd]Taiga[/ccProd]—certainly not four. We want to make good use of our [ccProd]Wasteland[/ccProd]s (and play four of them), and we want to cast [ccProd]Thoughtseize[/ccProd] turn one, [ccProd]Hymn to Tourach[/ccProd] turn two, and [ccProd]Liliana of the Veil[/ccProd] turn three. It’s particularly important to cast our black spells on time at the invitational where the field is historically skewed toward blue decks and in the last year in particular toward combo decks that aren’t great against discard.

Moreover, in terms of my enjoyment of Magic (something I cared a lot about at this tournament—I didn’t expect to win!), I want to play games where I can cast my spells, and I don’t think the cost of ensuring that you can do so is particularly high.

The Punishing Fire combo is admittedly great against creature decks, but these days that largely means Delver and Deathblade variants. Jund is already a nightmare for those decks, so I’d rather spend that effort on the rest of the field. Certainly I don’t want to make my Shardless BUG matchup a 9 instead of an 8 at the expense of my mana.

In fairness, none of this really played out the way I thought it would. I played against zero Delvers and zero Stoneforge Mystics—in the rounds that I played, my opponents were two Punishing Fire Jund, two Sneak and Show, one Elves, and one Painted Stone. My losses were to Elves, which might be an ok matchup but I lost quite easily and didn’t play well to seal the deal (Adam Barnello said this matchup was “surreal” with a soundtrack of Lana del Rey so I imagine I really look pathetic), and to Sneak and Show. I can’t really say that my estimation of the field was correct or that my deck choice was particularly canny, but I do think that this at least shows that your matchup in the pseudo-mirror isn’t miserable, and neither is combo an auto-loss.

The last point is maybe hardest to make clear, but I hope it will make sense to you if you are inclined to feel the same way, and I hope exactly the same amount that you won’t feel slighted if it doesn’t. Legacy is a format where we can really mostly do what we want. Well, I barely want to play [ccProd]Lightning Bolt[/ccProd] when other people get beloved [ccProd]Griselbrand[/ccProd], so drawing the card [ccProd]Punishing Fire[/ccProd] doesn’t really do it for me. That kind of thing can make a person feel foolish, you know?

Despite what I thought, it turns out that I had a couple things to say about two decks I’m really very fond of. I hope this is helpful to you if you play Rw devotion at a PTQ, and thank you for reading!

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