Welcome back to Journey to GP Birmingham, our ongoing series of articles follow our continuing trials, in an attempt to prepare us for this summer’s Grand Prix in Birmingham. This week we catch up with James, as he makes some improvements to his deck, but will they lead to an improved performance?
For those of you following on at home, I have been working on perfecting my beloved burn deck for any, and all challenges I may come to face. I had previous attended a Modern Monthly event at Patriot Games Leeds, in which I had managed to fight my way to the top 8, only to have my hopes dashed in the quarter finals. Why’ll I was pleased with my performance, I had discovered some issues facing my deck, and was keen to rectify them before the decks next outing.
Firstly, I had to swallow a bitter pill. That of my greedy mana base. Why’ll Naya provides a wealth of options, including one of my favourite creatures, Wild Nacatl, the cost of guaranteeing the use of white, red, and green mana by turn two really, really hurts. Most games, I was fetching and shocking myself down to fourteen, in order to keep up the pressures on my enemies. This was fine for the most part, especially when I was against no-standard win condition decks, such as Lantern Control or Infect. But when you start to face more aggressive/mid-range decks, you end up gifting your opponent, with over a quarter of your life total. Yes, you are trying to win by about turn five, but if you have given your adversary a head start, that may not be quick enough.
I’m not the only burn player to take notice of this fact, as recently a new version of the Naya build has been making the rounds. Well I say Naya, but it resembles more a Boros build then before, focusing on white as the support colour, with only a splash of green in the sideboard. The only losses to the deck? My beloved Wild Nacatl, and the versatile Atarka’s Command. But worry not, there are some spice cards, all too eager to take their place. We replace the Command with a full playset of Skullcrack, which sacrifices to +1/+1 and extra land mode, but does allow us to stop our opponent from preventing damage for a turn, (very useful against creatures with protection from red). And instead of the extra creature, well instead run a full playset of Lightning Helix, helping not only to provide more top deck damage, but giving us some efficient life gain to boot.
But the new addition that allows this deck to shine comes from Magics latest block, in the form of Inspiring Vantage. The new fast lands have helped many architypes and decks flourish. This includes us, helping fix our mana, but not at the cost of our life total. The only change I have made to the established deck, (aside for still waiting to pick up my Arid Mesas), is the removal of a single land to make way for a Grim Lavamancer. This little one drop may not look too dangerous, but many a game has been won be the repeated ‘shocks’, this human mage can produce. The sideboard is pretty straight forward. Kataki, War’s Wage is great against Affinity and other heavy artefact decks. Rest in Peace is awesome graveyard hate, why’ll Deflecting Palm will make your opponent regret attacking with their 5/6 Tarmogoyf. Path to Exile will handle any threat a bolt would miss, and Kor Firewalker works wonders in the mirrior. We round out the sideboard with Sudden Shock for Infect, and our only green spell, Destructive Revelry, provides direct removal for annoying artifacts and enchantments. And with that, we have our improved burn deck.
So now that I have adjusted my deck, I need to test its metal against some worthy opponents. Having a free night from family duties, I decide to try my luck at a local Thursday modern night. With around sixteen players, and no top 8 planned, it would be four rounds of Magic, playing against some of the people I had meet previously at the Modern Monthly. How did I do?
Round 1; Jund
Game 1; I win the roll off, and elected to go first. A turn one Goblin Guide allowed me to start the pressure, despite some early hand disruption, care of Inquisition of Kozilek. My opponent starts to lose ground, and I take a quick game one win.
Game 2; Again, my opponent disrupts my hand with discard. I’m able to handle the follow up Tarmogoyf, but then find myself on the wrong end of Liliana of the Veil and Huntmaster of the Fells. Unable to find enough burn to finish out the game, the discard of Liliana and life gain of the Hunt Master, leads me to a defeat.
Game 3; My opponent follows the same path, getting Liliana and the Hunt Master down early. However, this time the werewolf eats a Lightning Helix to the face. With me in top deck mode, and my opponent unable to find any more offence, other than his lone wolf token, I manage to hit just enough burn to win the game.
Round 2; 8 Rack
Game 1; I find myself up against the same player who ruined my day at the Modern Monthly, knocking me out of the top 8, and I was ready for payback. Again, I win the roll off and go first, (something that is very important to burn players). I pile in quickly with Guides and Monastery Swiftspears, as well as a few ‘bolts’. Thou he is able to slow me down, he is unable to find any win-cons, and I take the first game.
Game 2; So, I’m one game up, have sideboarded, and I’m ready to rumble. I know I have to be careful, as keeping the right hand is vital to my success. I remember all too well my mistakes from our last encounter, and will not be making them again. My opponent however, is merrily making bold calms, such as “I’ve never lost to burn on the play”. I feel like I should warn him about the pit falls of Hubris, but decide against it. There was no game three.
Round 3; Temur Mid-range
Game 1; I drew someone playing a very spicy Temur brew, crossing a traditional mid-range deck, with the tempo and counters of blue. Although he is able to stop some of the damage getting through, I manage to Skullcrack and Lava Spike him down to zero before he can stabilise.
Game 2; Everything was going fine. I was in a commanding lead, with the finals in my sights. Then he goes and casts Feed the Clan. Its ok I tell myself, I can still do this. So long as I can keep up the pressure, everything will be fine. Then he goes and casts Torrential Gearhulk, recasting Feed the Clan for TEN more life. I somehow manage to find enough burn to bring him down to three life. With no cards in hand, I look to my top deck, and hard cast a Rift Bolt.
Round 4; Naya Chord
Game 1; The game starts well, dispite me losing the roll off, and I’m able to play a pretty good tempo game with Searing Blaze. Unfortunately for me, I get stone walled by land after land drop. This gives my adversary enough time to ultimate his Nahiri, the Harbinger, which lead to my untimely end at the hands of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
Game 2; This was a for closer affair than I would have liked. I end up getting my Grim Lavamancer targeted by a Runed Halo, and slowed down by a Burrenton Forge-Tender. But after some fancy work with a Skullcrack, (and a miss play by my opponent), I manage to tie the round.
Game 3; My opponent keeps a risky seven, one land hand. I’m able to take advantage of this with one of the best draws I had ever seen. Unfortunately for my opponent he gets stuck on land, (despite the best efforts of my Goblin Guides), and finds himself with few outs. I wait for him to tap out casting a Restoration Angel, then Skullcrack him for the win.
Well, that went well, didn’t it? Even thou it pains me to say it, I do think the lack of Nacatl’s made the deck a little more efficient, especially when it came to closing out the game. Why’ll the cat warrior can win games quicker, it is a terrible top deck when your opponent is on three or less life, (which happens way more than you would think). You can even afford to let the game go on slightly longer than before, as the healthy mana base, coupled with the life swings of the Lightning Helix, means you can cling on until you can find that last ‘bolt’. The next step is to replace my Windswept Heaths, with Arid Mesas, but after that the deck should be solid. I may also want to try out the new Harsh Mentor, either in the main deck or sideboard. I do intend to try this deck out some more, seeing if I can replicate the results. Next weekend, myself and the rest of the Masters, are invited to the Patriot Games Sheffield’s invitational, where we will be playing Sealed and Standard, and hopefully Modern and Draft if we can make it to day two, so expect some more event coverage next week.