PPTQ coverage – Pro Tour 25th Anniversary – Nottingham – 11/02/18

Hi All, another week has flown by and, the ‘New Standard’ into which we move even more is starting to establish itself. Personally, I find Standard challenging and exciting. The games are decided less often by variance and are instead by some close call decisions or ‘tight races’ to the finish line (assuming neither player had mana problems). Both Grixis Energy and Mono-red continue to be very popular but I’ve seen a lot of decks being tried out and succeeding to some degree against varying portions of the field – UW Auras, R/G Monsters and BW Tokens to name a few. The metagame is starting to establish itself. This article brings you coverage from a PPTQ I attended just over a week ago in Nottingham.

Event Preparation

I did a typical meet for live testing with Matthew Duggan (Matt) and Gareth Woodhead PT (Gaz). Alf couldn’t make it this week. Matt was trying out a Grixis Control deck, which I had played against online a couple of times and from that experience, was very confident about the matchup was ‘easy’. After a couple of ‘easy’ wins, it turns out that preventing all my combo/threats and playing The Scarab God with counterspell backup was insanely good against me. Matt managed to do this many more times than I originally thought possible, which caused me to rethink the matchup a little bit. Gaz was still pretty much settled on his trusty Glint-Sleeve Siphoner to Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh Grixis curve-out deck. I wasn’t sure how effective UW Gift would still be and, if I didn’t win, was considering playing either Mono-red or buying some Rekindling Phoenix to play R/G monsters in a future PPTQ. The event was too close for the comfort of either of those options, so I was locked on the Gift one last time. At the last minute, Matt wanted to switch to Mono-red so I lent him the deck. This is the list I played.

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
Negate
Jace's Defeat
Gideon of the Trials
Fairgrounds Warden
Cast Out
Settle the Wreckage
Angel of Sanctions

I made one change from my previous list from the PPTQ the previous week (which you can read about here), replacing the Baffling End in the Sideboard with a Gideon of the Trials. This was a ‘try-it-out’ manoeuvre. I had played against a lot of R/G and Jund Monsters online and the cards Rekindling Phoenix and Heart of Kiran had been quite problematic. I felt I wanted another answer to ‘big flyers’ as well as potential utility against Approach of the Second Sun. The classic UW Approach control deck is something I’ve observed to still be popular among local players, and Bant Approach has now entered the fray. Jim Davis played this deck a few weeks ago at a team SCG event to a good record, and it also featured more recently in a Magic Online PTQ Top 8. I felt that this deck might pick up in popularity so having some more outs would be a bonus.

Bant Approach by Tommycakes – MTGO Standard PTQ – 04/02/18

Maindeck (60)
Arch of Orazca
Botanical Sanctum
Desert of the Indomitable
Hashep Oasis
Ipnu Rivulet
Irrigated Farmland
Scavenger Grounds
Shefet Dunes
Sunpetal Grove
Forest
Island
Plains
Approach of the Second Sun
Essence Scatter
Fumigate
Hour of Promise
Settle the Wreckage
Spring / Mind
Baffling End
Cast Out
Gift of Paradise
Ixalan’s Binding
Search for Azcanta
Thaumatic Compass
Sideboard (15)
Authority of the Consuls
Carnage Tyrant
Desert’s Hold
Jace’s Defeat
Negate
Regal Caracal

The Event

The event was held at The Dice Cup in Nottingham, which I’d not been to before. I travelled to the event with Bant master himself Tommy Hayward, fresh off his PTQ Top 8. We met Matt and Gaz there as they had travelled with Rob Catton (Roberto). The venue was very specious place with a vegan café and had a family-friendly feel to it. The event was going to be 6 rounds of swiss followed by the Top 8. Here’s how it went.

Round one: vs Bant Approach

I’m actually playing against Bant Approach master, and fellow traveller, Tommy – is this how pairings are supposed to work?

  • Game one: I want to try and combo as quickly as possible so that I can establish a recursive source of damage in an attempt to withstand all the Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage that is sent my way. Unfortunately I dig through a lot of cards but fail to stick a God-Pharaoh’s Gift as my opponent has Ixalan’s Bindings to stop me. I’m a little short on damage and I actually concede to being milled out by my opponent’s Ipnu Rivulet.
  • Game two: My opponent misses land drops and quickly concedes to multiple Angels of Invention.
  • Game three: My opponent ramps out properly but this time I have Negate for Hour of Promise and land Gideon of the Trials (and his fantastic emblem) to save the day against the Approach. Each time my opponent tries to Cast Out or Ixalan’s Binding the planeswalker, I have an Angel of Sanctions, Negate or Cast Out of my own to make sure he reappears again soon. The game times out and the result is a draw.

0-0-1

Round two vs Mono White Vampires

  • Game one: From my experience, this is all about ‘not dying’ in the early game so that I can take over the lategame with larger threats. This deck actually has an insanely good ability to rebuild from a Fumigate so I need to make sure I don’t fire off the one I’ve drawn prematurely. I do what I can to stay alive through my opponents army of multiple small attackers and Adanto, the First Fort. I don’t even attack except with my vigilant Angel of Invention to gain life as the speed at which I pressure the opponent is unimportant due to the inevitability I intend to present later. Eventually, I have the Gift returning very large lifelinking flyers and my opponent concedes.
  • Game two: Again, the gameplan feels very similar, but I have Fairgrounds Warden and Angel of Sanctions to help me out. I come fairly close to death as my opponent makes a desperation attack, and uses a Pride of Conquerors to push through some extra damage. I blocked knowing that if my opponent had the City’s Blessing I would have lost, but they only had 8 permanents. (I would have lost if they had two copies though – which I didn’t think about if I’m honest!) After surviving that onslaught, my opponent is out of gas and I’m able to take over the game with large flying creatures.

1-0-1

Round three vs UB Midrange

  • Game one: I manage to transform Search for Azcanta on turn three and ramp out into an Angel of Invention. My opponent accidentally plays two lands on his turn three and a Gonti, Lord of Luxury. We unfortunately don’t realise this until, not my next turn, but my opponent’s next turn (I think he was keeping pace with the land drops and got thrown by Azcanta transforming so soon). The head judge rules that too much has happened since and we can’t rewind, which leaves me at a huge disadvantage, but it is what it is. The only thing I fear in this match-up is The Scarab God, which I’m fortunate enough to Cast Out. My opponent soon succumbs to my superior creature presence, a reasonable amount of which flies.
  • Game two: In similar fashion to game one, I’m only really worried about the Scarab God, and possibly River’s Rebuke. I have way more answers to the former now and Jace’s Defeat doubles up against both. Using Angel of Sanctions and Champion of Wits, I quickly grind my opponent out of cards, taking care to ensure that my opponent is never able to untap with The Scarab God. With a formidable air-force, I’m able to apply adequate pressure once I have control of the game.

2-0-1

Round four vs Mono-red

I’m playing against Matt. Let’s see if he can beat me with my own deck.

  • Game one: This is all about the speed at which I can combo out and if my opponent can disrupt it with Abrade and finish me off before I combo again. My opponent plays to the board quickly but I preserve my life total with annoying 1 drops. I have a Cast Out for Hazoret the Fervent and combo off with a 6/6 angel as my opponent starts to run out of gas.
  • Game two: My opponent has a slightly slower start, but I believe most Mono-red players will raise their curve and slow down a smidge for the postboard games, bringing more powerful threats like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer to push them over the edge. My priority is ensuring I hit land drops so I can cast my Angels as they will be needed to win the game. My opponent lands both Glorybringer and Hazoret and I mess up really badly on my turn six by forgetting to play a land post-combat before passing the turn. This means I cannot play both Cast Out AND Gideon of the Trials on turn seven to answer them both in one go. I am still able to embalm an Angel of Sanctions on the Glorybringer and chump Hazoret with a stray Servo token and fortunately my opponent has neither a second Glorybringer or Chandra to punish this sequence. Next turn I Cast Out the Hazoret and deploy Gideon, who later is able to clock my opponent alongside the Angel.

3-0-1

Round five vs Mono-black

  • Game one: My opponent plays some cheap aggressive threats but I fortunately have the pesky 1 drops to buffer my health total, so only a Bone Picker is able to crash through for damage. An Angel of Invention then neutralizes the board and unfortunately my opponent has drawn pretty much only his beatdown cards and Fatal Pushes. This means God-Pharaoh’s Gift is very much uncontested when it hits the battlefield and victory comes along shortly.
  • Game two: My opponent plays a Heart of Kiran but swings and misses multiple times with Duress. With my opponent low on cards, all I have to do is deal with the Heart of Kiran. My opponent is on mono Scrapheap Scroungers so the Sacred Cats I’ve deployed are actually able to swing in to mitigate the lifeless from the Heart of Kiran until Angel of Sanctions makes the Heart disappear. I soon put my opponent on the back-foot as he plays small creatures out as chump blockers. I play a God-Pharaoh’s Gift to bring back larger Sacred Cats and very soon it’s GPG-GG!

4-0-1

Round six vs Mono-red

My opponent (who is currently 5-0) and I take an Intentional Draw as we work out we will both be on the top half of the bracket for the quarter finals.

4-0-2

Top 8

I have a sandwich and manage to get a round of Exploding Kittens in with Matt and Roberto before the Top 8 starts. I’m fourth in the standings, getting to go first in the quarter finals. Matt and Roberto are also in the Top 8, playing against each other in the quarter finals. Three Mono-red decks made the Top 8!

TOP 8 Decklists from the event are available here

Quarterfinal vs BW tokens

  • Game one: My opponent gets the Hidden Stockpile engine going early and start to pressure my health total. I stabilise a little with a Angels of Invention, but what I’m trying to do is draw either lands or Refurbish to get the Gift going. I manage to get two on board but I’m actually running out of things to return from my graveyard. My opponent is also starting build his board with annoying enchantments like Anointed Procession, and I only have one Cast Out left in my deck. Unfortunately for my opponent he is given a game loss for deck registration error. It was unclear who would have won that game, but given my opponent was scrying and had a couple of good outs in his maindeck, I could have dodged a bullet there.
  • Game two: This game is was pretty insane! Again, my opponent starts off well and assembles double Hidden Stockpile, double Anointed Procession. I stop some of this nonsense as two Angel of Sanctions are able to get rid of the Stockpiles, but there’s still the problem of Adanto, the First Fort making four 1/1 vampire tokens every turn, and two Anointer Priests gaining him eight life each time. I fortunately have a Settle the Wreckage just in case my opponent goes for the ‘Shefet Dunes my team, swing’ play. My opponent does indeed do this and I allow him to search for twenty-something basic lands. I then start to come back with two Angels of Invention that start to gain me more life. We have a few turns of me crashing over for 22 points of flying damage, 12 of which is lifelink, and my opponent continuing to generate an army of 1/1 tokens while regaining the life. The life-totals start going all over the place and I have to start using a second sheet of paper. However, this game is all about making sure I can Negate or Cast Out the remaining enchantments, put my opponent in a position where they have to attack each turn to survive (and lose half their army in the process) I actually use my two Negates on two Fumigates as I want to continue to press my advantage as quickly as possible. Eventually the fliers outrace my opponent’s ability to gain life and victory is mine!

Semifinal vs Mono-red

Matt beat Roberto so I get to play against him again, let’s hope my own deck doesn’t beat me this time.

  • Game one: My opponent comes out of the gates quickly but I have the combo, multiple copies of Refurbish and the lands to play them. The first Gift on turn four is Abraded but Gifts on turns 5 and 6 spell doom for the opponent.
  • Game two: Unfortunately my opponent misses their third land drop which gives me plenty of time to set up. Within a short timeframe, multiple Angel of Sanctions are able to deal with any on-board threats and clock the opponent to an early exit.

Final vs Mono-red

Roberto advises me to do ‘exactly what I just did in the semi-final’ in order to win this one before leaving with Matt and Gaz. I agree a prize split with my opponent so that the loser of the match gets all the boosters (I’m only really interested in the RPTQ invite). Many may be able to relate, but for those who are unsure why I would do this, losing the finals of any long Magic tournament is a blow that often needs softening (I already experienced such a thing only three weeks ago). In any case, I’m ready to do battle.

  • Game one: I manage to get the turn four Refurbish, but in doing so, I have to Strategic Planning away two more Refurbish. To my dismay, my opponent has the Abrade, but misses several land drops. This at least slows him down enough to buy enough time to find the last Refurbish a few turns later and start making 6/6 Angels.
  • Game two: I look at my opening hand of Authority of the Consuls, two Sacred Cats, Plains, Island, Glacial Fortress and Angel of Invention. I’m feeling pretty confident. I hit the land drops in sequence and unfortunately my opponent is never really in this one. By the time he sticks a Hazoret, I’m still at 20 life with plenty of blockers. A few swings of flying damage from Angels and it’s all over.

Winning a PPTQ is something I’ve not manage to do for about six months so I’m very pleased to have put myself back on the map! Qualification for this particular RPTQ entitles me to bring two team mates with me, who can be anyone who is not already qualified for the relevant Pro Tour. This is quite an interesting discussion piece that I might write about in the near future and haven’t mentioned it in my other articles because I’ve been so ‘tunnel-visioned’ into exploring the Standard format and trying to win – but watch this space!

Bonus section – Deck breakdown

Even though prior articles have contained a bit of strategic advice, I thought I’d provide a more detailed breakdown of the cards (rather than just general strategy) in my build as this was something I didn’t really touch on in my previous articles, and I think is an important thing to impart to people who might be newer to the deck or playing Standard.

Maindeck

 

This card does three things. The main application is to use it to fill your graveyard for God-Pharaoh’s Gift. You can also use it to transform Search for Azcanta way ahead of schedule if you need a boost from the ‘ramp’. Finally, it blocks tokens and Bomat Couriers pretty well.

 

Its main function is to help keep you alive, buying you enough time to overwhelm your opponent with the more powerful cards in your deck. Don’t try to get too greedy or clever with blocks – often chumping to provide a speed-bump for your opponent’s plan is enough. Opponents who can’t afford the speed bump may use removal spells on it to clear the way, in which case, if you eat two of them with this, you’ve nabbed some card advantage. It’s also an appropriate discard for cards like Champion of Wits or Chart a Course, when you’re unable to use the discard to your advantage.

 

 This card helps you find the relevant pieces for the matchup and ‘bin’ those that you don’t need, or help fuel the combo. It also provides a speed bump, or ‘pressure’ on slower opponents. Some of your opponents will be averse to trading with it, as it’s Eternalize ability is big game and helps you recoup cards.

 

This is your primary win condition which can play both offence and defence. You play this deck to live the dream of reanimating this on turn four with the Gift. Even when this doesn’t happen, you often find yourself assembling some Servos to chump block or ‘go wide’ in applying pressure. In addition, the anthem effect can sometimes open up attacks for the turn that weren’t really there before.

 

The discard is actually an assist for your combo in terms of dumping the right piece in the graveyard and digging for the missing pieces. 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.

 

Similar role to the previous card but slightly different method. This 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.

 

Slower, but repeated card selection. This card helps you set up the combo/find the right cards over a few turns once you untap with it. It’s pretty easy to get six cards in your graveyard with this deck, so sometimes you can ‘ramp’ pretty early by transforming this card and cast the more expensive spells ahead of schedule.

 

Concession to needing some interaction, even in game one. It answers The Scarab God and Planeswalkers particularly nicely and can be cycled when not relevant.

 

How else were you going to get the Gift in play? Pay seven mana every time? There are no other artifacts in the deck so this card has one job.

 

Another concession to the need for interaction. On one level, your gameplan likely goes over the top of your opponent, meaning they probably want you dead before you can implement it, this means, if they are a creature-based deck, there’s a bit of an incentive for them to commit to the board quickly which plays right into this card.

 

The namesake of the deck and perceived primary weapon that allows you to go over the top. I say ‘perceived’ because, as I discussed in a previous article, this version of the deck isn’t as ‘all-in’ on getting this into play as other versions and is capable of winning games simply with ‘creature beatdown’. This card facilitates recursion to go over the top of the opponent as necessary.

Sideboard

 

 

Provides more early interaction against aggressive decks and is part of the creature-based transformational sideboard plan. Most opponents should board out Fatal Push against you, but be mindful that Warden’s trigger enables Revolt.
 

 

Further interaction that blanks Negate, Abrade, and Duress – the most commonly sideboarded cards against you. It’s a great manoeuvre for this deck to have an alternate win-condition that dodges sideboard ‘answers’ from your opponent, interacts with your opponent’s board and can recur (even without the Gift). This does it all and comes in for pretty much every match-up.
 

 

There are some things to which you just need to say ‘NO’. Good examples include Approach of the Second Sun, River’s Rebuke, and Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh. I also board it in against decks like Tokens that will overload the Angels of Sanctions and Cast Outs with their troublesome and numerous enchantments. 
 

 

You definitely need to say ‘NO’ to The Scarab God. Incidentally you can also hit Torrential Gearhulks and the aforementioned River’s Rebuke and Nicol Bolas.

 

Very strong card against Mono-red. I also board it in against some of the fast decks using vehicles (e.g. Mardu, Mono-black) as delaying Crew 3 on Heart of Kiran can matter, but it doesn’t shine as much in those matchups. I’ve also boarded it in against R/G Monsters to mitigate Glorybringer and Rekindling Phoenix.

 

More interaction which is boarded in as an extra answer to The Scarab God and most of the things you want to use Angel of Sanctions on (but this gives you some redundancy).

 

I’m unsure if this card is needed, but it seems like you can really ‘get’ some opponents with it and it’s a good to have in any situation where you’re opponent has amassed a superior board to yours. In the postboard games you can have up to ten 5 drops in your deck so I like this over a third Fumigate. You also get to maintain your board and wipe theirs with this if it all comes together which is particularly relevant for when you’ve boarded Warden and more Angels.
 

 

As mentioned earlier in the article. I’ve been trying this out over a second Authority of the Consuls and Baffling End for it’s ability to interact with Heart of Kiran, Rekindling Phoenix, Glorybringer and Approach of the Second Sun, and attack for damage if all else fails!

Other resources for UW God Pharaoh’s Gift

These are resources I have looked to in order to learn about how the deck works, card choices and sideboarding strategies. I realise they are all pre-ban resources, so I’d advise you adjust the lens slightly to take account of this – maybe devote a little less attention to the tips on how to play round Rampaging Ferocidon! I found them insanely useful for picking up the deck.

I hope you enjoyed the journey! We’ve learnt a new deck, explored a new format and got lucky enough on the third attempt to win another Magic tournament and bring things to a positive close for the season. I’m looking to continue to write on some future events and topics in the coming weeks, just maybe not a PPTQ for a little while. I’ll leave you with a celebratory picture from the event!

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