PPTQ Coverage – Pro Tour 25th Anniversary – Halifax – 03/02/18

Hi all, another PPTQ in the books, new Standard is starting to take shape with the dust settling from a scramble of ‘new brews’ and ‘old favourites’ in a race to see what’s best positioned going forward.

In my previous article I speculated on my options to choose what I thought would be best in the wake of the bans. I ended up trying a new deck. Reflecting back on my thought process, although it was biased towards my personal preferences, I feel that my instincts weren’t too far off in terms of what’s starting to contest ‘Top spot’ at the moment. For instance, I played against a lot of Grixis Energy, Mono-red and Mardu Vehicles at live events and on Magic Online .

I decided to run back the same 75 I used in the previous PPTQ, mostly because I hadn’t had time to try out a new deck during the intervening period which had been centred around attending GP London (which I also wrote about here).

Maindeck (60)
Hostile Desert
Ipnu Rivulet
Irrigated Farmland
Glacial Fortress
Plains
Island
Minister of Inquiries
Sacred Cat
Champion of Wits
Angel of Invention
Chart a Course
Search for Azcanta
Strategic Planning
Cast Out
Refurbish
Fumigate
God-Pharaoh’s Gift
Sideboard (15)
Authority of the Consuls
Baffling End
Negate
Jace’s Defeat
Fairgrounds Warden
Cast Out
Settle the Wreckage
Angel of Sanctions

The Event

The event was held at Forge 26 in Halifax and this was their first PPTQ. It’s great to see new game shops rising to the challenge and joining the UK PPTQ circuit. I traveled to the event with Alfie Bennett (Alf), Matthew Duggan (Matt) and Jackie Haden (Jackie). The event was slightly oversubscribed but all players fitted into the store comfortably and lunch was even provided. Here’s how the rounds played out.

Round 1 vs Mardu Vehicles

  • Game one: My opponent applies quick pressure with Heart of Kiran and Veteran Motorist. I put some Sacred Cats and Champions of Wits in the way as I frantically dig for a Refurbish. Unfortunately, my opponent gives me as little time to do this as possible by using Unlicensed Disintegration very aggressively and crashing through for lethal.
  • Game two: I have to mulligan and I have a hand stacked with powerful cards, I just need to get to turn five and start casting them. My opponent comes out of the gates again with a Toolcraft Exemplar and Scrapheap Scrounger. I’m unfortunately very low on early interaction as I only draw more 5-drops. My opponent Duresses me and sees two Angel of Invention, an Angel of Sanctions, and two Fumigates. My last draw step needs to be an untapped land in order to survive and unfortunately it’s an Irrigated Farmland so I’m dead.

0-1

Round 2 vs Grixis Energy

  • Game one: My opponent starts well with Glint-Sleeve Siphoner which remains uncontested. I try and Refurbish but my opponent has the Abrade and starts landing bigger threats. I’m unable to battle through my opponent’s card advantage brought about earlier by the Siphoner.
  • Game two: I play what could be construed as ‘aggressively’ to the board with multiple Champion of Wits and I draw multiple Cast Outs to get rid of Siphoners. My opponent misses quite a few land drops early so by the time they play The Scarab God I have Jace’s Defeat for it and add an Angel of Invention to the board to force my opponent to have Hour of Devastation. They do have it, but with Eternalize on Champion of Wits I’m able to recoup cards and grind out the remaining damage.
  • Game three: A lot doesn’t go right for me in the early game as my opponent removes all my creatures and controls my graveyard with Crook of Condemnation. One thing I observe is that my opponent doesn’t kill my creatures pre-combat, so I’m able to get a Chart a Course for two cards (no discard) at no cost at some point. I can’t remember if this actually made a difference, but it may have. The game becomes very grindy as I commit very little to the graveyard because of the Crook and chip away with small creatures. Luckily my opponent doesn’t draw many overwhelming threats. The crucial turns are where my opponent taps out for Hour of Devestation to wipe an underwhelming, but nonetheless threatening creature presence. I’m able to Eternalize an Angel of Sanctions from the Graveyard. They then tap out at a later stage for The Scarab God and I’m able to slam a God-Pharaoh’s gift which brings back another Angel of Sanctions and crashes through for exactly lethal.

1-1

Round three vs Sultai Journey to Eternity

  • Game one: My hand is fine, but it’s a little reliant on a Chart a Course to avoid simply being a sub-optimal creature curve-out deck. The Chart gets immediately taken by a Kitesail Freebooter and I’m slowed down tremendously. My opponent also uses Gonti, Lord of Luxury on me and manages to transform a Journey to Eternity. Their deck looks really cool! I hardcast multiple Angel of Invention to defend myself as I’m falling behind. My opponent then casts God-Pharaoh’s Gift via the Gonti they played earlier. I cast mine but they use a Thrashing Brontodon to get rid of it. This looks grim for me! They return a Ravenous Chupacabra to take out my Angel and crash in, putting me pretty much dead on board for next turn given I can’t stop the Gift they’ve stolen from me. Fortunately for me, I think my opponent has miscounted and miscalculated their attack as I’m able to swing back for lethal.
  • Game two: I’m much more confident about the matchup now that I’ve boarded in some Fairgrounds Wardens and Angels of Sanctions, this means I can potentially deal with a creature with a Journey to Eternity enchanted on it without making it die. I use my cantrips to hit land drops and my opponent doesn’t draw anywhere nearly as well as they did in the first game so I take this one fairly easily by outgrinding my opponent’s resources with Champions and Angels.

2-1

Round four vs Esper God-Pharaoh’s Gift

  • Game one: My opponent and I both try to combo out but I get there first owing to them not quite amassing six creatures in the graveyard re: Gate to the Afterlife. I reanimate an Angel of Invention and start swinging. My opponent takes it out by using Gift to return a Ravenous Chupacabra, but I have enough to swing through for lethal the following turn as I am able to dump another Angel into the graveyard. I think if they had reanimated their own Angel and forced a trade-off of Angels it may have bought him more time to set up with The Scarab God and interfere with my Gift.
  • Game two: Unfortunately, my opponent misses quite a few land drops. I also have plenty of answers to the Gate to the Afterlife as long as I keep note of the creatures in their graveyard and whether they can or can’t combo out straight away. As I’m applying pressure with Angel of Sanctions and Hostile Desert, my opponent doesn’t get much time to implement their plan.

3-1

Round 5 vs Merfolk

  • Game one: My opponent comes out of the gates very quickly as I frantically cast and embalm Sacred Cats to buy time while I dig for either my combo or Fumigate. I do manage to combo off but my opponent has an Unsummon for my token. Unfortunately, as I didn’t gain life with my Angel and I’m too low on health, my opponent’s unblockable creatures are enough to secure victory.
  • Game two: I sideboard out the combo as I expect yet more ways to interact with it in the form of Negate or Spell Pierce as well as those maindeck Unsummons. My opponent has a very slow start, so I’m given a lot of time in the early game to develop my gameplan. Fairgrounds Warden is an all-star being able to remove an unblockable creature while holding off 2/2’s. I wait for them to play their Merfolk Mistbinder, chump with the Fairgrounds Wardens, untap and Fumigate. Whether this card resolves or not pretty much dictates the result of the match. It does.
  • Game three: My opponent comes out a bit quicker, but again the Fairgrounds Warden slows them down enough. I force my opponent to commit more to the board by nabbing all the unblockable creatures and playing an Angel of Invention to brickwall their assault. They commit the rest of their hand and the Fumigate is good to go. I then start Eternalizing creatures and enact the inevitability while my opponent topdecks 1 drops and 2 drops.

4-1

Round 6 vs UW God-Pharaoh’s Gift

Due to the loss in game one my tie-breakers are bad. I’m paired down against an opponent who is 3-1-1 and cannot take an Intentional Draw into Top 8.

  • Game one: I do maintain that this game is pretty much about who can draw and subsequently combo ‘better’, which usually means ‘faster’. I keep a hand with a Cast Out, which I think is important, but other than a Chart a Course, it doesn’t really have much going on. I draw two more lands off the Chart so it’s safe to say, ignoring the fact that my opponent combos off twice (first time I have Cast Out), that my opponent has this one in the bag.
  • Game two: This one is a bit more interactive. I have a few Fairgrounds Wardens and Angels of Sanctions to contest any resolved threats, but I don’t have any other pressure of my own. My opponent hard casts an Angel of Invention and I’m faced with the choice of simply taking damage from it, or contesting it with a Fairgrounds Warden. I probably should have just exiled a Servo token and taken some damage for a bit, as I soon realise that as the board dominance goes back and forth with various exile effects. Each time this happens, my opponent nets two Servo tokens. My opponent also lands a God-Pharaoh’s Gift where I present nothing of relevance. From that point they easily swings the board dominance their way and crosses the finish line.

4-2

Matt and Jackie made Top 8, which was encouraging! I unsurprisingly end up in 11th, and though disappointed not to make Top 8 this time I knew losing my last match would prevent this. I’m generally happy with the way I played, didn’t draw particularly well in some of the games, but I suppose all decks have a bit of a failure rate. I’ll close by sharing a couple of tips I’ve picked up from playing the deck and a quick matchup guide for a few of the more commonly played decks (assuming you are playing a similar list to mine).

Tips playing the deck

Opening hands and mulligans

In the dark (game one), I like to keep hands that have the potential to be ‘busted’ and live the dream of a turn four Refurbish. A lot of the more commonly played decks are either very fast and only run one or two ‘answers’ such as Abrade or Scavenger Grounds, and enabling gift as early as possible is the easiest and most likely path to victory. For example, I much prefer this hand:

Over something like this:

The second hand does have some interaction and looks like it might put up a fight if you play UW midrange/control for a bit, but it’s too reactive and slow. You rely a lot on drawing a cantrip early to give yourself something to do on turns 2 and 3 as all you can do is cycle Cast Out.

For most of your sideboarded games, some or all of the combo pieces come out, this means that you will be hardcasting a lot of cards and might have up to eight five-drops in your deck. This means hitting land drops for the first five turns is absolutely essential.

Do I play around countermagic and Abrade – or do I just jam my Refurbish into open mana?

In game one, when in doubt, I generally like jamming the Refurbish and hoping my opponent doesn’t have an answer. This is because the answers are often cheaper and easier to hold up, you could be faced with the same decision in subsequent turns only you are potentially further behind on board, life and maybe you didn’t do anything on turn four in choosing to play around their hand. The only exception is against a control deck that isn’t applying any pressure and wants to use its mana as effectively as possible every turn – it’s sometimes advantageous for you to tax their mana and threat assessment skills by playing two spells in quick succession, or bait a counter with a Cast Out on something like Search for Azcanta on the end of turn 4, untap and Refurbish.

Postboard it’s a little more difficult to tell. You’ll see from the tips later in the article that I often sideboard out the Refurbish – so this eliminates this decision in a lot of cases for postboard matches. In postboard games it’s safe to assume that your opponent will always have a few more answers to the Gift than in game one, so if it’s still in your deck, you have to feel your way a bit more – one question to ask is ‘if I’m not casting Refurbish now, when am I casting it instead?’

Do I make Servos or +1/+1 Counters with my Angel of Invention?

This is all about considering the relevance of the Servo tokens as opposed to the ability to gain more life quickly. I have found myself making Servos a high percentage of the time with hardcast Angels as most opponents should be able to deal with a single creature threat and having the tokens left over is useful for blocking or applying subsequent pressure. When the Angel is reanimated with haste via Gift, there is a shorter timeframe to deal with your 6/6 threat.

I have both Chart a Course and Strategic Planning in my hand, which is best to play?

The discard part of Chart a Course is actually an assist for your combo in terms of dumping the right piece in the graveyard. In games where the combo isn’t relevant, being able to Divination at a discount is useful card advantage and helps you hit land drops early so consider this if you can attack. Strategic Planning doesn’t let you dump a card already in your hand into your graveyard, but it does let you ‘dig deeper’. You only get one new card, so if you’re looking to seriously upgrade the overall quality of your hand Chart is often better, but if you’re looking for one specific card the ability to dig one card deeper is relevant. If I need to hit land drops I often play Strategic Planning in favour of Chart a Course.

Quick match-up guide

Here are some thoughts I have about the main matchups as Standard takes shape. This is based on my experience with the deck so far:

Grixis Energy

  • Main gameplan: You want to go over the top of their midrange strategy as quickly as possible, ideally before they get The Scarab God online and have the ability to disrupt Gift. A 6/6 Angel is a real threat against them as they need to use Chupacabra/Hostage Taker or Vraska’s Contempt on it as they won’t always have 6 Energy for Harnessed Lightning. Some versions play up to three Abrade maindeck to have an answer to the Gift. After sideboarding this changes (see below).
  • Their best cards: Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, The Scarab God, Abrade, Vraska’s Contempt
  • Sideboarding: They commonly board Duress, Negate, more Abrade and maybe some graveyard hate like Crook of Condemnation. I’ve also seen Hour of Devestation, River’s Rebuke and Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh in an attempt to answer our ability to ‘go over the top’ but this is less common. I like implementing the creature sideboard plan against them because between these common sideboard answer they have the ‘turbo into Gift’ plan covered. Fairgrounds Warden provides a way to interact with Siphoner early which can slow them down, but watch out for it being able to be removed immediately. Siphoner into a steady stream of cards is the main way they are going to try and beat you. The other way is for them to stick a Scarab God so save a Jace’s Defeat or Cast out for that card.

Mardu Vehicles

  • Main gameplan: You need to combo out as quickly as possible without dying. Sacred Cats can help buy time, but not against Heart of Kiran. The only way for them to stop the 6/6 Angel is Unlicensed Disintegration so once you have the engine going you should be able to take over the game most times. This changes after sideboarding (see below)
  • Their best cards: Heart of Kiran, Unlicensed Disintegration
  • Sideboarding: They commonly board Duress and Abrade as well as maybe some Planeswalkers, either Chandra, Torch of Defiance or Angrath, the Flame-Chained to help apply pressure from a different angle. I actually board out all Refurbishes and Gifts in this matchup as I think racing to an early Refurbish is tough to do reliably against the amount of pressure they apply which is now backed up by additional disruption. A seven mana card is not going to help you in the early game without Refurbish, and when you get to turn seven and are still alive, it won’t really be needed to win the game in most cases. Angel of Sanctions and Fairgrounds Warden do a lot of heavy lifting in slowing them down, they also deal with Hazoret the Fervent which is huge. Having said this, it’s worth thinking about using these cards to remove artifact creatures to reduce the impact of Unlicensed Disintegration and constrain Spire of Industry.

Mono-red

  • Main gameplan: You again need to combo out as quickly as possible without dying. Sacred Cats can really help buy time and force them to use burn spells on them to force their X/1 creatures through. The only way for them to stop the 6/6 Angel is by Abrading the Gift before combat – they don’t really have a clean answer to an X/4 (other than Glorybringer if they maindeck it) so even a 4/4 Sacred Cat is big game. They have a lot of ‘Can’t block’ effects so think about this in relation to your possible blocks for next turn. Once you have the Gift going you should be able to take over the game most times. This changes after sideboarding (see below)
  • Their best cards: Abrade, Scavenger Grounds, Glorybringer
  • Sideboarding: They commonly board more copies of Abrade and evasive threats like Glorybringer and Aethersphere Harvester as you play ground defence quite well. Some players prefer to just remain as quick as possible with more Abrades to answer the Gift. I think either plan plays well into the creature sideboard plan which is good at slowing them down and allowing you to take over the game with your Angels. The only problem becomes multiple Glorybringers, which you will need to save Cast Out for as it can exert to kill any of your creatures. You want to clock them as quickly as possible after stabilizing to prevent this eventuality. I board out all the Gifts and Refurbish for this matchup to make room for this gameplan.

GB Winding Constrictor

  • Main gameplan: This is a matchup you are hoping to face, you are well set up to go over the top of them with the combo and their gameplan usually plays right into Fumigate. The only worry is an unanswered explosive creature curve however that is pretty much how they aim to beat all opponents. Try to save a Cast out for an 8/8 Verdurous Gearhulk as that can prove to be troublesome threat even after you’ve established some board dominance.
  • Their best cards: Walking Ballista (Can quite easily removal all the smaller ‘chump blockers’ while staying alive due to Winding Constrictor) Vraska’s Contempt, Verdurous Gearhulk.
  • Sideboarding: They should board artifact and graveyard hate as well as maybe Duress, some even board cards like Dispossess. Once again, the Angel of Sanctions/Fairgrounds Warden plan helps get around this and also slows down their explosive draws with Winding Constrictor. Settle the Wreckage is almost a third Fumigate to keep you alive. This deck has more sideboard answers to Cast Out than the former three decks I’ve covered so be wary of this (Naturalize, Appetite for the Unnatural).

UW/Esper Approach

  • Main gameplan: This matchup is quite bad in game one as they have a lot of countermagic to stop the Gift entering play, and you have no way to stop them resolving Approach of the Second Sun twice if they draw it. Your best chance is actually to apply as reasonable a level of pressure as possible around Settle the Wreckage and Fumigate and try to ‘mill’ the second Approach before its redrawn with cards like Minister of Inquiries or Ipnu Rivulet.
  • Their best cards: Disallow, Approach of the Second Sun, Settle the Wreckage
  • Sideboarding: After sideboarding you can add countermagic in an attempt to stop that second Approach. There’s not too much else worth countering unless you’re playing against the Esper version which might board in (or maindeck) The Scarab God, so save an answer for this card. I keep the Refurbish to tax their countermagic but board out the low impact 1 drops for the full set of Angel of Sanctions. These apply much more pressure, and recur if killed, they might also take out one of their few but key non-land permanents (Cast Out, Search for Azcanta, The Scarab God).

UW Gift (Mirror)

  • Main gameplan: Draw better than your opponent! If both players draw well enough neither will be able to properly crash through for damage, so it may come down to decking. However, if one person gets Gift into play early and the other doesn’t, the game will almost certainly be theirs
  • Their best cards: (These are also your best cards!) Cast Out, Refurbish, God-Pharaoh’s Gift
  • Sideboarding: The sideboarded games are very different and come down to who is able to keep whose Gift off the table with the various exile effects. You’ll often see loops of Fairgrounds Warden, Cast Out and Angel of Sanctions going back and forth. The tie breaker is that most of this is at sorcery speed, so if its your Gift that’s being exiled, you can get it back temporarily, obtain one trigger and use that to obtain an advantage before your opponent potentially shuts you down next turn with an exile effect. Negates come in to prevent Refurbishes or hardcast Gifts.

I have played against the Esper and Jeskai variants and I believe the principles are very similar. Try and stop them comboing and go over the top (if you can) with your combo. Against the UB version I wouldn’t sideboard Negate because they don’t have a key non-creature spell to stop like Refurbish or Madcap Experiment. Gate to the Afterlife can be removed with Cast Out or Angel of Sanctions except when they are going to sacrifice it in the same turn. It’s true this can come up, but  it won’t be each time they cast it, meaning you won’t necessarily need to Negate it when its played. You should still sideboard Jace’s Defeat to stop The Scarab God.

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