Last weekend I travelled to Stansted to take part in the last UK RPTQ. I made the trip to Stansted and stayed in the same hotel as my fellow Leeds players Rob Catton, Matt Duggan, Alex Roebuck, Callum Bousfield, and Alfie Bennett. In this article, I’ll talk through my experience at the event, the deck I played, how I prepared for the event, and how I feel about the current standard format.
I did pretty much all my preparation on MTGArena from my living room.
Most times I wanted to practice I would play a Traditional Constructed event (BO3). The main reason for doing this is that I’m trying to build a collection of decks by using the gold prizes from constructed events in tandem with daily rewards to fund Drafts (to actually get the cards I need for new decks). I did try the Competitive Metagame event that went up for a weekend in January and was lucky enough to 7-0 it for 30 packs, but that event has been discontinued as of this article. I mainly played Sultai Midrange, Izzet Drakes, Azorius Aggro, and the deck showcased below. Other decks I expected to show up at the RPTQ (but didn’t play myself) were Mono-Red Aggro, Mono-Blue Aggro, Esper Control, and Bant Nexus.
Other times I played against friends with particular decks and sideboard configurations via Direct Challenge once we decided what matchup we wanted to test. You can get a ton of games in pretty quickly this way. Simply doing this (and a draft – can’t resist!) every couple of days has allowed me to jump from having just a Golgari deck to having the above four complete decks. So if anyone is wondering how hard it is to build up a collection to play Standard on MTGArena – provided you do some drafts, win at over half your matches and pick up your free daily rewards regularly – it can be done quite quickly!
Team trios constructed
Axion now were hosting the RPTQ and offering a team trios constructed event the day before the RPTQ alongside the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ). In this event, you play as a team of three players with one played using a Standard deck, one player using a Modern deck, and one player using a Legacy deck. Until mid-January, I had assumed I would be playing in the LCQ, but I was lucky enough to win the last PPTQ. This change meant that I had unfortunately left the ‘organising a team’ part fairly late. Laurence Arnelll, another friend from Leeds, had agreed to sleeve up Grixis Control and play Legacy with me, and in addition he also agreed to provide me with the last few cards for this sweet deck that had me pretty excited.
4 Adanto Vanguard
4 Tocatli Honor Guard
4 History of Benalia
3 Resplendent Angel
2 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
4 Seraph of the Scales
3 Lyra Dawnbringer
1 Angel of Grace
3 Cast Down
2 Conclave Tribunal
1 Ixalan’s Binding
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Memorial to Folly
1 Angel of Grace
2 Arguel’s Blood Fast
2 Diamond Mare
1 Ethereal Absolution
1 Ixalan’s Binding
1 Moment of Craving
1 Shield Mare
1 The Eldest Reborn
1 The Immortal Sun
However, as the event drew nearer and nearer, we didn’t have much success in securing a Modern player for the event, and we were pretty much relying on stray players on the day. In addition, it transpired that Laurence had a family emergency come up just before the weekend, so I told him not to worry about the team trios event. I therefore accepted that, despite being able to borrow several cards for the deck from friends, without the last few bits the dream of playing the above pile of Mythics was likely dead and I’d be entertaining myself with either Chaos Drafts or otherwise on the day.
A new team assembles
Twenty minutes before the event, I was talking to Tom Duffy, a friend who I assumed was already playing in team trios, but as it transpired, had nothing else planned for the day. Tom is known for going 1 mana – 2 mana – 7 mana in Modern and couldn’t resist when I asked him if he fancied Tronning people all day, provided we could find a Legacy player. A few minutes later he introduced me to his friend, Lukas, who was willing to team up and pilot a Death’s Shadow deck. I didn’t have my angelic goodness complete, but I had brought the deck I’d been playing on MTGArena with reasonable success.
In ten minutes we registered for the event, built our decks, wrote decklists and sat down for round one. Here is the Honda Civic (uninteresting but reliable) deck I played.
2 Carnage Tyrant
3 Hydroid Krasis
4 Jadelight Ranger
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
2 Midnight Reaper
2 Ravenous Chupacabra
4 Wildgrowth Walker
1 Assassin’s Trophy
2 Cast Down
3 Find // Finality
2 Vivien Reid
3 Vraska’s Contempt
4 Breeding Pool
2 Drowned Catacomb
1 Memorial to Folly
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Watery Grave
4 Woodland Cemetery
1 Cast Down
2 Cry of the Carnarium
2 Reclamation Sage
1 Hostage Taker
1 River’s Rebuke
As far as our ‘team cohesion’ was concerned, it was quite makeshift. I had met Lukas literally 15 minutes ago, I know nothing about playing Tron, and I haven’t cast a Brainstorm for about 9 months, so I simply just trusted my team mates to either have 7 mana on turn three consistently or wipe out the opponent’s with a 1 mana 12/12 while I played my ‘backup deck’.
I can’t remember the full extent of the matches of my team-mates, but here is the gauntlet I ran:
- Round 1 vs White-blue aggro – 2-0 WIN (Team WIN)
- Round 2 vs Nexus of Gates – 2-1 WIN (Team DRAW)
- Round 3 vs Esper Midrange – 0-2 LOSS (Team LOSS)
- Round 4 vs Esper Control – 2-0 WIN (Team WIN)
- Round 5 vs Izzet Drakes – 2-1 WIN (Team WIN)
- Round 6 vs Esper Control – 2-0 WIN (Team WIN)
With a 4-1-1 record, we hadn’t fared well enough to Top 4 the event, but we did get to enter the ‘Diamond Top 8’ playoff for bonus prizes. This was a special playoff round for teams finishing 5-8. Tom wasn’t aware of this and had already ordered a drink from the bar as he thought his work for the day was done! This was quickly put aside for more Tower, Mine, Power plant action.
I played against a Gates deck with Gate Colossus and Gatebreaker Ram. As my opponent and I were shuffling up for game three, it transpired that both Tom and Lukas had unfortunately lost their matches and so it was over. We each got 18 boosters for our trouble, however!
Reflections from the event
For an improvised team, I thought we did quite well! In a couple of instances, I finished my matches earlier than those of my team-mates and watched them play and they both played very well – so well that I realised they didn’t really need any of my help! Here are some of my more interesting recollections:
- I may have won my round two match against Nexus of Gates, but that was because I was really lucky, or rather, my opponent was very unlucky. In one of the games they drew a ton of cards hoping to hit about 9 or 10 outs to not die and had to concede showing me a hand full of tap lands. I felt like a massive underdog the whole way through, and after about turn five it was a matter of simply playing to my outs and hoping that the explore creatures could get me over the line in time.
- I got thoroughly destroyed by Esper Midrange, partly through my misjudgement, partly through drawing poorly and letting them run riot. In game one, I put a Cast Down and Ravenous Chupacabra in the graveyard with two explore triggers. This wasn’t because I was digging for lands, I had enough, but I decided that those wouldn’t be good in the matchup as my opponent had played taplands and discard spells and was probably playing a control deck. Within two turns later the joke was on me as Hero of Precinct One, Basilica Bell-Haunt, and Thief of Sanity arrived to the party and made a laughing stock of me. In game two I died on about turn 8 with multiple Hydroid Krasis in hand and no blue mana sources.
- In round four vs Esper Control, my opponent cast Unmoored Ego twice to remove all my copies of Carnage Tyrant and Hydroid Krasis from my deck. Even without my most powerful creatures, the exploring merfolk and Vivien Reid finished the job anyway. I wouldn’t recommend this plan to any Esper control player for the Sultai matchup. Yes my large threats are considerably better than my small creatures, but the deck can function well without them. A plan like this is much better against strategies that rely almost entirely on single cards like Nexus of Fate.
- The Gates deck with Colossus and Ram seemed a more manageable matchup than ‘Nexus of Gates’. I have less dead cards and am trying to execute a similar plan (kill them before they go over the top of me). Vraska’s Contempt is good against the 8/8 and Vivien Reid can also kill it as well as those pesky Guild Summits.
In other news, Alfie made the Top 8 of the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), but lost in the quarterfinals. Rob’s team won the entire team trios event!
In the evening my friends and I returned to the hotel at which we were staying to cube draft and play some boardgames. I drafted an Abzan deck with an insane manabase and some Orzhov, Selesnya, and Golgari bombs, but was ultimately punished by Thalia, Heretic Cathar of all things!
The Last RPTQ
I was comfortable running back the Sultai deck in the RPTQ the next day but agonised a little over whether to switch one of the copies of Cry of the Carnarium for an Unmoored Ego. Nexus of Fate is just that annoying! In the end, I decided to keep things as they are. I have very few slots for aggressive matchups and if White, Red, or Blue show up I want to be able to put something in for the cards that are bad against them in games 2 and 3. With no changes, this is how the matches played out for me:
- Round 1 vs Esper Control – 2-1 WIN (1-0)
- Round 2 vs Izzet Drakes – 1-2 LOSS (1-1)
- Round 3 vs Bant Nexus – 0-2 LOSS (1-2)
- Round 4 vs White Weenie (splash red) – 2-1 WIN (2-2)
- Round 5 vs Mono Red – 2-1 WIN (3-2)
- Round 6 vs Mono Blue – 2-0 WIN (4-2)
- Round 7 vs Esper Control – 2-0 WIN (5-2)
After round three I was dead for Top 8, with tie breakers probably not being good enough for Top 16, but I decided to just play the rounds out anyway instead of dropping for a rebound event or draft.
5-2 was good enough for 20th place and 30 boosters. I don’t think any of my opponents had a better record than me in the event so yet again my tie breakers were appalling. Congratulations to the following players who qualified for the Pro Tour by making the Top 8 of this event!
- Fabrizio Anteri
- Autumn Burchett
- Sam Rolph
- Richard Carr (Team Upheaval)
- Levi Mochan (Team Upheaval)
- Paul White (who won the LCQ the day before!)
- Lukas Lazerevas (the UB Shadow player I teamed with the day before)
- Tomas Lamser
Reflections from the event
I’m generally happy with the way I played on the day. Here are some of the more interesting recollections:
- The match against Izzet Drakes was very close and could have gone either way. In game three I put us into topdeck mode in the late game with me at 21 and my opponent on about 6 life. Unfortunately I drew very little, and my opponent was able to use cards like Discovery // Dispersal and Chart a Course to dig for that Crackling Drake and Dive Down to seal the deal.
- The match against Bant Nexus wasn’t really that close. Not only was I playing against Raoul Zimmerman, someone I have never beaten at Magic, but after a point I felt I was leaning on ‘pretending to have Negate’ so that he would play round it to make sure he didn’t die AND had to hope the top 10 or so cards of his deck weren’t useful. Raoul also engineered a situation where he could play Search for Azcanta, take another turn with Nexus of Fate, and then transform the Search in that very next turn. This played around the Reclamation Sage I had very well which could have made a difference. I have since considered cards like Crushing Canopy as a candidate for an additional Disenchant, should my sideboard go this way. The main reason for playing the Sage was to be better against History of Benalia and be able to continue to apply pressure if the need to Disenchant came up (previously I had been playing Thrashing Brontodon because it blocks better).
- The match against Mono-red was probably the most exciting match of the day! In game one, I stabilised and stomped with a Carnage Tyrant. In game two my opponent mulliganed to five and I sequence Wildgrowth Walker into Jadelight Ranger. I thought this one was in the bag, but my opponent played an Experimental Frenzy and played pretty much their whole deck over the next few turns while I drew… well… nothing really. In game three a similar scenario came up (without the mulligan to 5). I didn’t draw particularly well and took about 30 damage. Fortunately I had gained about 40 life with multiple Wildgrowth Walkers so I survived long enough to start drawing relevant spells and put the game away with a 13/15 Walker.
- In round six, I played against GP Birmingham 2018 Champion Gary Campbell on Mono Blue Aggro (If you haven’t checked out Enter the Battlefield: Scotland yet, I recommend you do). Despite being against one of my poorer matchups, Gary’s 1/1s were roadblocked by my 2/2 Hydroid Krasis, and fortunately for me, he didn’t draw anything to break through before my Jadelight Rangers applied too much pressure. In Game two I managed to use my removal to stabilise, take a Pteramander Hostage, cast it, and then had enough mana to adapt it!.
What do I think about Standard overall right now?
If I’m honest, I think it’s great and would like to play more competitively. Unfortunately, in the absence of an announcement of what’s replacing PPTQs at the time of writing, this will probably have to be Ranked play on MTGArena for the foreseeable future. At this point, I’d like to shout out my friends Jack Patten and Simeon Beever at Standard Intelligence who are continuing to provide good content on the subject through their regular podcast and helped me out with the decklists for both events!
What are the competitive ‘tier’ decks?
If you want to play Standard competitively, here are what I assess to be the most commonly wielded weapons at the time of writing. There are way more decks that could also be described as ‘competitive’, but they just show up a lot less.
- Sultai Midrange – Classic threats and removal deck, sideboards disruption.
- Esper Control – Classic control deck with removal, counterspells, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
- White Aggro – Classic white weenie. My favourite version splashes blue for Deputy of Detention and sideboard countermagic.
- Mono-Red Aggro – Classic cheap red creatures and burn
- Mono-Blue Aggro – Cheap evasive creatures backed up by disruption
- Bant Nexus – Combines Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate with card draw to reliably take all the turns and win with Hydroid Krasis – or just a Thopter token from Depose // Deploy (usually turn 6).
- Izzet Drakes – Evasive ‘go tall’ creatures for 3-4 mana backed up by disruption and removal, also includes premium card selection.
- Gates Strategy – There are two main versions, both have a Gate-heavy manabase and use Guild Summit/Gates Ablaze for card advantage/removal, but one uses Gate Colossus and Gatebreaker Ram as win conditions while the other uses Nexus of Fate and Wilderness Reclamation to try and go over the top of everything (usualy winning with Expansion // Explosion).
If you want to play a deck that has game against the widest spread of other ‘tier’ decks then I’d recommend Sultai or Esper. The White aggro deck is also currently a good choice but it doesn’t have a very flexible gameplan like the other two. If you don’t curve well in the early game, regardless of the matchup, you could fall short very easily.
And that pretty much rounds out this article. Thanks again for reading – I hope you found it informative and entertaining!
In terms of further content, with no more PPTQs or RPTQs, it’s unclear what competitive events I’ll be attending before MagicFest London. I’m hoping some clarity will come soon from Wizards of the Coast on what new system local players can continue to engage with to play paper Magic competitively. In the meantime, I’m certainly going to be playing a lot of MTGArena so perhaps I’ll create some content in relation to that!
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154), and I’ll most likely be at MagicFest London in April. I play most of my Magic in the North of England, but also regularly attend GPs in Europe and large competitive UK events like Axion Now’s Mega Modern and Legacy Masters.