Hi All, with another PPTQ season upon us already, it’s time to hit the Northern events and battle for an RPTQ slot once again!
Preparing for events falling just after a new set’s official release can add an extra layer of challenge and excitement as there’s a huge influx of new information to consider as compared with any other time during an evolving format’s lifecycle. With Dominaria new on the shelves, I was certainly keen to see what ‘new toys’ could form part of my 75. In this article, I’ll cover how I prepared for this event, with a particular emphasis on which of the new cards and strategies appealed to me most during this process. I’ll then follow up with a review of the actual event itself and close with some thoughts of my own on the format going forward.
A brave new world… or not?
I like some of the paradigms, and specifics covered in Reid Duke’s recent article for Channelfireball about Dominaria Standard. So I’m going to give credit where credit’s due and kick things off with a link to his article and take you through how I applied some of the main points.
As I did, I would recommend giving this a read if you are attending a Standard event in the very near future. In consideration of the points Duke makes, here were my intuitive choices:
- Choose an old deck: My top picks from previous Standard are R/G Monsters, U/B or Grixis Midrange, Mono-red Aggro or U/B Control. I could simply run one of these back with a quick insert of one or two new cards, Goblin Chainwhirler to Mono-red, Cast Down to UB/Grixis etc.
- Choose a mono-coloured deck: Of course I would agree with Reid, being so risk averse and paranoid of colour screw! However he makes a good point of the simplicity working in your favour, particularly while everyone is experimenting, trying out new things. In this kind of environment a simple, consistent plan can steal the day. In terms of my preferences, this has me leaning to Mono-red or Mono-white more than the others.
- R/G Monsters, B/W Knights and U/W Approach: These three archetypes are specifically recommended in the article (although I think there’s a strong subtext also recommending Mono-red). These are three already successful archetypes that benefit from obvious extra firepower from the new set and also thrive slightly more in environments of uncertainty. From here my preferences lie with R/G and B/W.
First look favourites from Dominaria
There are some white cards that have obvious synergy and can open doors to varying takes on the general strategy of quickly deploying white creatures and attacking the opponent. The main culprits for grabbing my attention were: Benalish Marshal, History of Benalia, Knight of Grace, Dauntless Bodyguard. Splashing other colours could potentially include Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy and Knight of Malice.
Is one of my favourite decks from times past actually returning?! While not quite boasting the power of Archangel Avacyn, Reflector Mage, Spell Queller and Smuggler’s Copter – Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage allows you to play the game at instant speed. This makes it harder for the opponent to play around the cards in hand given that when you pass the turn with all your mana up, you could be representing Settle the Wreckage to halt an all-out attack or a Lyra Dawnbringer to ambush a more conservative attack; Seal Away or Syncopate for their MVP. You could just take out your whole non-legendary battlefield presence with Urza’s Ruinous Blast if you want. Not enough options? You could be simply waiting for your opponent to commit their mana, and then cast a huge Walking Ballista to finish them off out of nowhere.
Green, with the involvement of a certain Elf
I’m sure that Wizards have thought carefully about reintroducing enablers for three mana on turn two in Standard. Dominaria offers Steel Leaf Champion as an effective and obvious next step, which in turn implies jumping on the mono-green bandwagon. I’ve recently played a bit of Red/Green Monsters where Llanowar Elves could be good. Playing Rekindling Phoenix, Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer a turn ahead of schedule seems quite powerful. In addition, perhaps GB Winding Constrictor decks can make good use of it. Turn one Elf into turn two Constrictor with Blossoming Defence back-up sounds like a strong opener.
Red deck still wins?
Most of my excitement here is Goblin Chainwhirler. Its triggered ability is very powerful and obviously impacts decks that will go wide with X/1s. I do wonder if its obviousness will make it it’s own worst enemy in that it will cause people to build decks with this card in mind (I would). Having said this, the fact that red itself might want to play less Fanatical Firebrand and more Soul-Scar Mage helps to mitigate this. Shrinking your opponent’s team often won’t be a bad result if you haven’t quite managed to Plague Wind your opponent. Chainwhirler will require red players to likely play less utility deserts, but with Ramunap Ruins gone, my current intuition is that this is an acceptable loss as the power of goblin outweighs utility lands.
It would be foolish to ignore that control decks got more tools. Syncopate has always played a part in Standard control decks when it is legal, and the Exile clause relevantly denies cards like Champion of Wits or Scrapheap Scrounger from getting full value. White also got Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and Lyra Dawnbringer as finishers as well as Seal Away as fast responsive removal. This card feels a lot like Immolating Glare, but it can hit Gods and has flexibility outside the combat phase. If you’re more into black than white, Cast Down poses as a Doomblade. It remains to be seen how much the text ‘non-legendary’ ends up as a drawback in this format, given that there’s a lot of new playable legendary creatures to add to the existing headliners like The Scarab God and Hazoret, the Fervant. Finally, Isolated Chapel also offers more manabase options, potentially helping to facilitate an Esper control deck more readily than before.
My deck choice
For me, the big consideration was whether I liked the UW Flash deck enough to give it a go. The upside, as talked through above seemed huge, but I could imagine too many scenarios where taking a ‘turn off’ to cast Raff, have it survive and untap in order to enable such an upside being much easier said than done. After deliberating over a few lists which I saw had been doing the rounds on Magic Online, I decided I’d stick to being proactive and with something I’m more familiar with, and maybe transition into it later if it continues to do well.
If I wasn’t going to play Mono-red myself, I wanted a deck that I thought would be decent against it, and control. Control is very popular at PPTQs in the North (probably everywhere to be honest) it appeals to newer and more experienced players. Unfortunately, I’m not as much of a fan. Black lacks a decent wrath effect, white lacks decent spot removal (Prove me wrong, Seal Away!) and there are so many diverse threats that, unless your opponent plays into the answer card that lines up well with it (or you have them all), odds are in their favour of outmanoeuvring you unless they screw/flood and you don’t.
White/Black was definitely a recurring theme and there were a few versions to choose from.
In the end I decided that Vehicles was going to be a more consistent than simply spewing out tokens, but I really wanted make good use of History of Benalia and Benalish Marshal, so I finally settled on this version trying to get the best of both.
I’m going to keep the focus of this section on going over some of the less intuitive deckbuilding decisions:
- Manabase: I really wanted to play Benalish Marshal, but I didn’t want to play Swamp or Forsaken Sanctuary. I decided that between Isolated Chapel not finding a basic and drawing Concealed Courtyard on turn four, I would be throwing myself off curve enough that the Swamp and Sanctuary would compound these risks and add new ones (like having to mulligan hands that have swamp, Spire of Industry and no artifacts). This also led to a trimming of maindeck black spells, making it effectively a mono-white deck with black for Scrapheap Scrounger’s ability and cards out of the sideboard. Until about an hour before the event, I had Knight of Malice in the list instead of Knight of Grace – mana sort of had an influence on the change, but I’ll discuss it more below.
- Removal light: I only have three removal spells in my maindeck. It’s arguable that if I’m splashing black, I can afford to play some black removal spells. For example, Fatal Push and Cast Down could easily be included. My reasons for not running these cards in my maindeck:
- Due to being conditional removal, you have to run a mixture of them in the face of uncertainty, which means running more of them. Every removal spell is at the cost of the inclusion of a ‘threat’ (creature, vehicle or planeswalker) and I really wanted to run as many of these as I could in this deck instead.
- Removal also isn’t very good against control, and you don’t this kind of removal to win against red a lot of the time. If there are things out of that deck you want to kill, it’s the four-drops.
- Seal Away can’t really hit ‘blockers’, so I don’t think it was going to be as strong as I wanted in this deck.
Cast Out felt like a perfect fit as a ubiquitous removal spell that can replace itself if not relevant. Removal choices for the sideboard were again limited to a couple of Cast Down and Golden Demise. Although I’ve just bashed it, there are decks where I think a Doomblade will be effective. I was thinking specifically of cards like Winding Constrictor, Ripjaw Raptor, Glorybringer and opposing Benalish Marshals which can snowball out of control if unchecked. Golden Demise was a safety measure against the decks that can easily go wider than me (e.g. the tokens or vampires versions of the deck) plus other small tribal decks like Merfolk.
- Knight of Grace: Isn’t Knight of Malice better? My main reason for choosing Grace over Malice was that I realised that the mana consistency was much more worthwhile than the boost to power (it’s all Benalish Marshal’s fault really). An important additional consideration was the ability to reliably crew Heart of Kiran. A 3/2 knight can do this but a 2/2 can’t. So, in my deck without black permanents, Grace cannot crew Heart of Kiran unless a Benalish Marshal is boosting it. Knight of Malice will be able to do this if I have a white Permenant – but all the white permanents in my deck except History of Benalia and its tokens can crew Heart of Kiran in their own right anyway. In addition, I decided that there was probably more cheap, efficient black spot removal than white to be dodged by Grace’s Hexproof ability.
- Gideon of the Trials: In consideration of being removal light, Gideon helps hold off your opponent’s biggest threat, acts as a threat himself, or helps to crew Heart of Kiran. Occassionally the emblem can come in handy (e.g. against Approach of the Second Sun). I wasn’t sure I definitely needed 2 in the maindeck, but there were matchups where I could see boarding in an extra on, and I wanted to free up sideboard space and maintain threat density.
- Treasure Map: If I had more black mana sources I would probably be running Arguel’s Bloodfast in this slot. One thing this card does have above the Bloodfast is that the Artifact count can matter for your other cards like Spire of Industry, Toolcraft Exemplar and Karn. Imagine transforming this and giving all your attacking Karn tokens +2/+2 at instant speed!
The event was held at Tea@Hart. Last time I came here, I lost the finals, so I was definitely hoping to do one better. I travelled to the event with Matt Duggan and Tommy Hayward who were playing RB vehicles and UB control respectively.
Unfortunately, the event was only attended by about 12 or so players. It may be the case that people hadn’t quite gotten the opportunity to sort out their cards from the set’s release a couple of days ago AND commit to travelling to the event. In any case, it would be five rounds, cut to Top 4. This is pretty much the same as any tournament with 17-32 players, only you’ll need a better record to get into the elimination rounds, but only need to play a semi-final and final if you get there. Here is how the matches played out.
Round 1 vs B/R Vehicles (Matt)
- Game one: I keep Toolcraft, Heart, two Isolated Chapel, two History of Benalia and Walking Ballista. It’s potentially quite slow and clunky but I don’t think it’s a mulligan. I immediately draw a Plains letting me curve out perfectly. I draw two more History Benalia and the tokens help me stabilise at a reasonable health total. After three or four turns of generating tokens and boosting them all, the game turns around very quickly.
- Game two: I keep three lands, four spells and although I draw an Authority to slow my opponent down, I don’t draw any lands for a long time. Sooner or later, my hand is Cast Outs and Lyra. Its very tempting to cycle the Cast Out to hit land 4, but I keep it in hand hoping to draw my fourth land, mainly because my opponent is flooding and not applying much pressure, and should he draw something like Sweltering Suns to clear the board and stick a Hazoret, Chandra or Phoenix, I’ll be wanting to have an answer ready. Unfortunately for my opponent, I start drawing lands before he can draw enough spells to have impact, and I take over the game with ease.
Round 2 vs R/G Monsters
- Game one: I mulligan to six and my opponent mulligans to five. Although I’ve started with a bit of card advantage, my opponent lands a Rekindling Phoenix which poses a bit of a problem. I can’t really attack into the Phoenix effectively. I can prevent the damage it would deal with Gideon of the Trials, but if it dies in combat and makes an Egg token, it just comes back as a new Phoenix that can do damage before my next turn, and pressure Gideon or my life-total. I’m therefore forced to just continually prevent the damage from it and try and build up a better and wider board. Fortunately, my opponent doesn’t draw anything particularly threatening over the next few turns and I’m able to pour Constructs and Vehicles onto the battlefield. Soon I have multiple 6/6 Artifact tokens in play which dwarf any of my opponent’s creatures and so he concedes.
- Game two: Again, I’m able to use Gideon of the Trials to hold Phoenix at bay and create a boardstall. I do have a Lyra Dawnbringer I can cast, I only want to play it if I absolutely have to as it can pretty much guarantee the game for me if the opponent has run out of resources – losing it to a Struggle or Fight with Fire is less appealing. I also want to hold up either the Cast Out or Cast Down that I’ve drawn in case a Glorybringer appears to break through my defences. Instead, Carnage Tyrant crashes in towards Gideon. I fortunately have enough ‘spare’ blockers to take it out, keep the planeswalker alive and still maintain board control My opponent then has to use multiple removal spells to prevent my Benalish Marshal and Heart of Kiran taking over the game after I Cast Out the Phoenix and Cast Down the dragon. With him out of cards,I decide its time to deploy Lyra and put the game out of reach.
Round 3 vs U/B control (Tommy)
- Game one: I curve Toolcraft, Heart, History, Karn. I think one of those gets countered and one of those gets removed, but, suffice to say, I’m able to continue to add threats to the board, and my opponent is dead very quickly.
- Game two: It’s time for Knight of Grace’s time to shine! My curve is a bit less ideal this time round, but I’m still able to chip in for varying amounts of damage each turn, diversifying my threats and playing around either Essence Scatter or Syncopate, whichever I think most likely to be at the ready. Again the opponent isn’t able to answer my threats and is reduced to 0 health quickly.
Round 4 vs U/R God Pharaoh’s Gift
I intentionally draw this match with my opponent.
Round 5 vs Mono-red
I’m safe even with a loss, and if there’s a chance to put one of my friends in the Top 4, then I’m happy to play this one out. As it happens, my friend Rob Catton might be able to make Top 4 if I play this one out and win (and he wins) so I decide to give him a shot.
Game one: My opponent comes out of the gates quickly with Bomat and Kari-Zev backed up by removal on key creatures and vehicles. I’m fortunately able to stabiliseat about 8 life and create a bit of a board stall. At this point I find out Rob has lost his match anyway so I offer to ID with my opponent as I’m actually quite happy to have a Mono-red deck in the Top 4.
Top 4 decklists
Top of the swiss and I’m playing the same UB deck I played in round three, piloted by Tommy, who casually announces ‘I don’t think I can win’, to which I remind him that I could definitely get manascrewed or flooded.
Semi-finals vs U/B control (Tommy, again)
- Game one: I deploy threats so confidently I forget the ETB trigger for Aethersphere Harvester, but it doesn’t matter, my opponent struggles to answer my board again. In theory, with 30+ threats in the deck, I should be able to assemble the means to beat my opponent down before he can stabilise, and that theory is implemented in practice in this game to a tea.
- Game two: In this game, Knight of Grace makes an appearance again and this time I remember my Harvester trigger and can gain life if I need to. Under fire as early as turn 5, my opponent casts Bontu’s Last Reckoning, but it only really deals with Grace and a Knight token from History (Scrapheap can come back and I’ve got the Harvester and History will get me another token next turn). I fearlessly add Karn to the board as I can pay 1 for a potential Syncopate. The metallic giant then provides more threats. With my opponent unable to untap three of his lands next turn I press the advantage. My opponent can’t find land 6, but puts a Gonti, Lord of Luxury in the way to halt my assault. I ask if he’s managed to find a Toolcraft Exemplar from my top four cards as I think that’s the only way he can muster enough defense next turn to survive an attack (either that or he has to have topdecked a Fatal Push this turn). Fortunately I have Cast Out for Gonti and he has no plays so I win.
Finals vs Mono-red
I propose a prize split so that the winner of this match obtains only the slot and any booster prizes for first place are redistributed to second place. After thinking it through, my opponent realises that this will at least helps soften a blow of a finals loss for either of us and accepts. Even though I consider this a reasonable matchup and I’m on the play, losing the finals if I get mana-screwed twice or make mistakes will need some comfort, so I usually offer this kind of prize split in PPTQ finals.
- Game one: We both have to mulligan, and neither of us have a second land on time. It’s a bit worse for me as I’m facing down two Bomat Couriers. Luckily I draw my second land and start deploying Walking Ballistas to take out the mail service bots before they can potentially improve my opponent’s hand. From there, I think this is a matter of me just finding the lands needed to play my spells before my opponent can. Some of my threats are met with Abrades and Lightning Strikes, but sooner or later a History of Benalia and Karn Scion of Urza show up to bury my opponent in card advantage and combat damage.
- Game two: My entire gameplan is about making annoying blockers for the early game threats, goading my opponent into using Shocks and Lightning Strikes on them so that I stabilise with enough life leftover to take over the game with a stronger battlefield and not be burnt out – or Lyra Dawnbringer. This works very well because I curve Authority of the Consuls into Knight of Grace into History of Benalia. My opponent threatens me a bit with an Aethersphere Harvester temporarily, but each turn that passes sees my board get better and his get worse and I’m at a safe health total. Once I think my opponent can’t possibly deal with Lyra, Dawnbringer, I summon her to mop up and my opponent concedes shortly.
On some of the new cards
Benalish Marshal: Making the concessions I had to in order to play this card felt worth it. I assumed all my opponents would be gunning for this card, so I probably played with it quite conservatively, only deploying it either when absolutely needed, or the turn on which I was planning to make a big attack. The basic value of this card is quite obvious so instead I’ve listed a few more nuanced things about the card.
- It does a reasonable Veteran Motorist impression as it can crew your Heart of Kiran and make it a 5/5
- If you have this and a Walking Ballista in play, your opponent may not notice that if you remove all the +1/+1 counters from Walking Ballista it will still be a 1/1 with no counters and not die.
- Related to the above, you can play Walking Ballista for 0 and have it live If you need to increase your artifact count (e.g. Karn tokens or to give Toolcraft Exemplar first strike)
- It’s a knight so it gets powered up by the final ability of History of Benalia
History of Benalia: This card performed extremely well at this event. The fact that the tokens have vigilance is huge for obtaining value both aggressive and defensive simultaneously. Getting the tokens over two turns makes it a bit more difficult for an opponent to nullify this cards that traditionally deal with multiple creatures unless they delay it and it’s huge that you can have more than one in play at a time to really mount the pressure.
Karn, Scion of Urza: I knew this was going to be great and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a particularly good fit in this deck as there are a lot of artifacts in this deck to boost the tokens so they’re usually 3/3s or 4/4s rather than 1/1s. The card advantage ability is a good way to try to pull ahead when at parity with your opponent. Given its colour requirements, I’m confident this card will be all over Standard.
Lyra Dawnbringer: I didn’t really get to attack with this card much as most people conceded to it, but that probably tells you a lot more. Red decks will certainly be worrying about this card and I think it’s a great trump card for a midrange deck like R/G Monsters as she beats Glorybringer and Rekindling Phoenix in a fight. As past iterations of Standard have taught us, control decks probably get the biggest benefit from her as a finisher.
Is this deck good?
Although I’ve only played one tournament, I’m very happy with the way the build came together and performed. I think I’d try and play 24 lands in the maindeck as not having enough lands was something I feel I ‘got away with’ a bit more today. What I mean is, when I wasn’t drawing lands, most of the time my hand happened to be two drops, which I could at least still play. I imagine the same scenario coming up, but the hand is full of three and four drops, so upping the land count may further improve consistency.
I feel I predicted the metagame for the event very well. There was a lot of red-based aggro and control and I think this deck is well positioned against both. I’ll be testing it against UW control as a bit of a sense check because I think Fumigate and Settle the Wreckage have more mileage against me. The decks I realised I fear the most for this deck are R/G monsters/ dinosaurs because if they’re ever on the front-foot you might not get the chance to punch through Ripjaw Raptors or Rekindling Phoenixes and subsequently defend yourself against these larger threats. I’m also of the view that I don’t have many quick answers to a Winding Constrictor snowballing out of control until game two.
See you next season?
Although I have won a PPTQ already, I will still be keeping up-to-date on Standard and playing a lot so you can expect more from me as Dominaria Standard evolves, even though it won’t be based on my own live event experience. I’ve leave you with a shout-out to another great resource for UK-based competitive event coverage.
This is a fantastic podcast and website hosted by Jack Patten and Simeon Beever. They recently interviewed Autumn Burchett on a recent episode where she shares her thoughts on preparing for Unified Standard by reflecting on the last World Magic Cup.
In addition, Jack and Simeon collate as many decklists as they can from PPTQ Top 8’s across the UK and regularly discuss them on their podcast episodes. If you Top 8 a lot of PPTQs, expect to potentially see your deck(s) here!