Hello and welcome to the first article of what may develop into a series of PPTQ diaries (depending on how I fare) over this PPTQ season. In this article, and those that follow, I intend to share some insights into what’s happening at PPTQs in the UK. This will include a breakdown of either the constructed or limited decks I play, key decision points and lessons learned. I’ll also include a link to the Top 8 decklists where possible.
Last weekend I attended a Standard PPTQ at the Games Pit in Wakefield.
What deck should I play?
In the previous PPTQ season I had played the UW Flash deck to a reasonable degree of success, eventually winning an event and qualifying for the RPTQ. The recent Standard bannings obviously had an impact on being able to continue playing the deck so it was time to look to other horizons, likely based on new toys offered by Aether Revolt.
Given that there were only two days between release of the set and the actual event, I needed to make an informed decision as to which deck to play quickly so that I could aquire the right cards.
The most hyped deck going in was Saheeli Jeskai deck which threatened to combine Saheeli Rai from Kaladesh with newly printed Felidar Guardian to create infinite 1/4 haste creatures as early as turn 4. Other than the fact that Saheeli Rai had increased in price quite substantially since I sold mine, I decided to almost entirely write-off playing any combo decks at the PPTQ. The main reason for this is that I don’t enjoy combo decks as much as decks that curve out with creatures or play to inevitability (what some people call ‘normal’ or ‘fair’ Magic). I think it stems from a personal reservation I have about playing “set-up” cards that aren’t impactful in the game on their own. This fear might be irrational, but I do like to have fun at Magic events! This is compounded by the fact that I likely don’t have any of the cards required for the combo decks, so it would require effectively buying a whole new deck.
I also didn’t want to play a control deck based around either Dynavolt Tower or Torrential Gearhulk (or both). While I respect that these decks are good, I generally prefer to be proactive in Standard. For instance, here are the decks I’ve played in previous Standard PPTQ seasons.
- Abzan Midrange/Whip (MIDRANGE – Siege Rhino, Whip of Erebos)
- R/W Aggro (AGGRO/midrange – Goblin Rabblemaster, Chained to the Rocks)
- Abzan Aggro (An aggressive/MIDRANGE – Warden of the First Tree, Siege Rhino)
- Bant Company (aggressive/MIDRANGE – Deathmist Raptor, Collected Company)
- GW Tokens (MIDRANGE – Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar)
- BW Control (CONTROL – Sorin, Grim Nemesis, Languish)
- UW Flash (Smuggler’s Copter, Reflector Mage)
Notice a theme here? I have an affinity for white midrange cards (probably over-valuing them) as they are a part of pretty much every deck I have played. This does not necessarily mean they are always the best choice or the ‘strongest deck’. However they suit my play style a lot and in an environment where it’s unclear what’s good and what’s not, sticking to something with which you’re comfortable with is often a good place to start.
For better or for worse, I convinced myself that I want to play a deck with 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. The card is very powerful, and in my mind likely gets better with no Smuggler’s Copters running around. This set me on the task of looking for the best colour to pair with white (I even tried brewing a white/colourless deck that would involve Eldrazi Displacer but it just seemed underpowered and the mana wasn’t great). I eventually settled on Green. Here’s the list I sleeved up for the PPTQ.
4 Fortified Village
4 Canopy Vista
1 Westvale Abbey
4 Walking Ballista
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Lambholt Pacifist
2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
1 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
1 Tireless Tracker
4 Archangel Avacyn
Other spells (15)
2 Heart of Kiran
3 Stasis Snare
4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
2 Ajani Unyielding
3 Blessed Alliance
2 Declaration in Stone
2 Tireless Tracker
1 Quarantine Field
1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
1 Key to the City
This deck’s core resembles the GW tokens deck that Steve Rubin used to win Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad – from which sprouted three months of Green White token dominance over Standard. As the deck’s core functioning has a bit of a history and reputation, I’ll simply go over some of the more interesting/contentious card choices in my build.
Thraben Inspector: My original build used Oath of Nissa but I decided to take the trusty 1/2 instead. Being able to defend Planeswalkers as well as get in for the odd point of damage outweighed trying to improve/smooth draws at more efficient cost. It’s worth noting that Oath of Nissa can miss, or default to taking a land, more often in sideboarded games because a lot of the cards boarded in cannot be ‘found’ with the Oath. However, it’s not just a matter of sideboarding out all the Oaths to avoid this, there are often cards that are less useful that you need to board out. With the inspector you always know what you’re getting!
Walking Ballista: The go-to reason for including this card at the time was to combat the Jeskai Saheeli combo deck. This robot prevents them from “comboing off” due to its ability to take out Saheeli Rai when she is at a mere one loyalty. It also can take down other Planeswalkers at low loyalty, or chump blockers. Finally, it does have some synergies with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Rishkar, Peema Renegade as well a mana sink in the late game (or a huge threat).
Thalia, Heretic Cathar: Mainly another measure to thwart the Saheeli Rai combo deck. Note how we are not enlisting any Authority of the Consuls. I like my ‘combo hate’ cards to play towards my proactive game plan a well as bring the hate. Thalia fills the curve well and helps the deck stay aggressive by slowing down the opponent’s ability to block or use haste creatures.
Rishkar, Peema Renegade: I was excited to try this card but unfortunately I only managed to get 1 copy, hence the random Tracker in the maindeck. Making Lambholt Pacifist able to attack on turn 3 even when the opponent has played a spell in their own turn can really ramp up the pressure. In addition the mana ability is a nice bonus, it gives you more resource to hold up mana while deploying threats, overload the board with all the threats or activate Walking Ballista more efficiently.
Heart of Kiran: As I’m playing with 10 planeswalkers and up to 12 creatures that can reliably crew it, I figured it was definitely worth trying this card. If other people were going to latch onto GW tokens, having a way to deal with opposing Nissas and Gideons was going to be important.
Ajani Unyielding: This source of removal and card advantage fills some of the gaps in the general GW beat down strategy in a package deal. Originally, I had Declarations in Stone in the maindeck and these in the sideboard, but then I switched to have a better game 1 against control, plus I had plenty to do turns 2-4 but few haymakers to follow-up with afterwards or to get me back into the game if the opponent stifled my first onslaught.
Key to the City: This card is for killing planeswalkers, breaking boardstalls and turning excess lands into gas. Admittedly it was a last-minute inclusion and perhaps Lifecrafter’s Bestiary is better, but I like that this card plays to the aggressive option more. Sure you might draw more cards with the Bestiary, but when you need to kill a planeswalker or get those last few points of damage through, the Key is obviously better.
I go to a lot of PPTQs and have been going to competitive events for a long time, so I had a good idea of who was likely to show up at the PPTQ based on my knowledge of local competitive players. In addition to this, I was joined by two fellow team MoM members, James and Bez. James was on RG energy and Bez was on Mardu Control. I travelled with fellow Leeds player Gareth Woodhead (Gaz). We tend to play similar decks – for instance, Gaz also played UW Flash in the previous season and was also playing a GW tokens for this event.
The event consisted of 31 players, which meant 5 rounds, cut to Top 8. As I want to focus on the key plays and learning points, the game by game analysis is otherwise going to be brief.
Round 1, game 3 vs GB Delirium
My board is 6 lands (but only 2 white mana), Gideon, 3 knights and a Lambholt Pacifist and my opponent’s board is 2 Grim Flayers (1 card type in graveyard), a Sylvan Advocate, Ishkanah Grafwidow and 5 lands including at least 1 Hissing Quagmire. I am on 14, my opponent is on 15. My hand is Stasis Snare, and Quarantine Field and more Forests. I really should have slammed the Quarantine Field on his advocate and gotten aggressive with my board. For some reason I decide to wait it out and I’m really not sure why, probably because it felt very ‘all-in’. In the following turns I continue to draw 2 more Stasis Snares and lands while my opponent manages to get Liliana, the Last Hope and Mindwrack Demon as well as more lands to turn on Sylvan Advocate. I really missed this opportunity and it ended up costing me the match.
I then go 4-1 in the Swiss, I was unable to ID in the last round. Gaz also made Top 8. I watched a bit of his game three, he seemed ahead, so I left to get a drink. When I came back he informed me that unfortunately he had lost the match.
Semifinal, game 1 vs UWR Dynavolt/Gearhulk control (on the draw)
My opening hand is Lambholt Pacifist, Walking Ballista, Archangel Avacyn, Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, Fortified Village, 2 Plains. I know what deck my opponent is playing. I think I ended up keeping the hand on the merit of having the Pacifist turn two, not having an answer to Dynavolt Tower game one anyway and having a reasonable curve assuming I can draw a second Green Source. Having said this, I think Walking Ballista is very poor in this matchup so it feels a bit like a mulligan to 6 anyway, and to curve out I absolutely must draw a green mana source. Therefore I maybe should have mulliganed this hand. As it transpired, my opponent does have a Dynavolt Tower early and I don’t draw a second green source so turning on the Pacifist starts to become awkward. I play a Thalia Heretic Cathar on turn four which I think was also a mistake as my opponent is able to wipe the board with Radiant Flames and I’m unable to present a reasonable threat in the face of the Dynavolt Tower.
I also vaguely remember game three being quite interesting but I’ve forgotten too many facts about the board state and what I had in hand to recount the events. I think I played to a game-plan that didn’t give my opponent enough credit. Though my opponent was catching up, I was ahead in the game but kept jamming spells hoping my opponent would run out of answers. Spoiler alert – they didn’t! It might have been that my opponents draw was good enough to stop what I did even if I tried to time my spells a bit differently, but, as I said, I can’t recount all the facts so it’s hard to tell. I do remember having a Fragmentize early and drawing a second copy later on and it didn’t do anything all game because my opponent didn’t play a Dynavolt Tower (or Stasis Snare).
The event was eventually won by Aidan Chalk playing GW tokens so congratulations to him and commiseration to Alex Roebuck for missing out.
Changing my deck
A lot of the things I learnt from this event can be addressed by deck reconfiguration.
- The sideboard needs work, now that I have more of a feel for what’s out there. I think I will start by trying Appetite for the Unnatural over Fragmentize. Despite being 3 mana, the ability to kill both Dynavolt Tower AND Torrential Gearhulk could make it a better option if control takes off. I would also maybe shave a Blessed Alliance as I feel 2 is likely more appropriate for aggressive decks. I might also cut the third Thalia, Heretic Cathar depending on how popular the Saheeli Rai combo still is.
- I will definitely play another Rishkar, Peema Renegade, likely replacing the maindeck Tireless Tracker. Even though it is legendary, you still get the ‘Enters the Battlefield’ trigger so drawing multiples isn’t quite the same as drawing dead cards;
- I’ve also considered switching the Archangel Avacyn for Verdurous Gearhulk. Though Avacyn is a very flexible card, she isn’t quite the poster-child for Standard that she used to be. People have learnt to respect times where you hold up five mana and a lot of decks are fielding either Grasp of Darkness, Harnessed Lightning or Stasis Snare to handle her, so she makes less of an impact in this metagame than she used to. Gearhulk offers improved synergy with Walking Ballista and a more aggressive game-plan;
- Speaking of green Gearhulks, I’ve also thought about the GB Delirium deck with a +1/+1 counters theme. Brennan DeCandio used it to win the first Star City Games Open in Columbus last weekend. The deck uses Winding Constrictor to perpetuate +1/+1 counter value from Walking Ballista, Verdurous Gearhulk and Rishkar, Peema Renegade. Here’s his list for reference.
4 Blooming Marsh
2 Evolving Wilds
4 Hissing Quagmire
4 Verdurous Gearhulk
4 Walking Ballista
4 Grim Flayer
4 Mindwrack Demon
2 Tireless Tracker
4 Winding Constrictor
3 Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Other spells (12)
2 Fatal Push
4 Grasp of Darkness
1 To the Slaughter
2 Ruinous Path
3 Traverse the Ulvenwald
1 Noxious Gearhulk
2 Natural State
2 To the Slaughter
1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Nissa, Vital Force
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
3 Lost Legacy
3 Yahenni’s Expertise
This week I will likely be heading to IQ Gaming for another Standard PPTQ. I’m hoping to be able to prepare a bit better for this one, with a little more format knowledge under my belt. I’m not sure if any of my fellow Team MoM companions will be able to join me, but I’ll still bring you some more insights after the event.