Top 4 at a PPTQ with Grixis

While on the show, we focus on Limited magic, today I want to talk about Standard. Before we start, I’d like to just say that a lot of this is for me, to force me to think about the tournament after the event and to give me a chance to assess how I played. I also want it to be entertaining and informative though, and I’m looking for any feedback you can give, even if that feedback is “didn’t finish the article”, because that tells me something about my writing being too long or maybe just a bit boring.

I battled through 9 rounds of magic over 11 and a half hours to come in third in a PPTQ at Dark Sphere, my LGS (Local Games Store), and one of the largest magic tournament centres in the country. I am of course really happy with this and I’m going to be going through my matches and how I run the deck in this article, but there are also some amusing stories around this weekend so I’m going to regale you with some stories as well. If you want the tech and strategy, skip on. Otherwise, let’s start with…

 

The week of

In BfZ standard I was on Jeskai Black but, as much as I love that deck, I’d stopped winning with it. No amount of tuning seemed to be able to fix that, something was up, and I wanted to play with some new toys anyway. So I built BBD’s Mardu Mardu list from CFB (ChannelFireball.com). It was fun, everything I did was a 2 for 1, and I was on a hot streak.

And then it stopped. Despite being a pure Mardu deck, I was actually playing 4 colours, with the last being colourless for Thought Knot-Seer and Eldrazi Displacer. And that hurt. I’m sure the deck can be changed, but I didn’t feel like I had the time or the inclination to do so. I needed an easier mana base. Which meant going back to one I knew inside and out with Jeskai Black, or a 3 colour deck with 2 sets of fetches in the main colours. And for me, I knew I wanted to play Grixis. GerryT has been running a Grixis deck recently that I particularly liked the look of as a starting point. But I also wanted a chance against Rally and Ramp game one, and Gerry himself said a Dig Through Time would not go a miss here for card filtering. So I moved into a more control placing. I went to FNM at Dark Sphere with my version of Grixis, having never played a game with the deck, and still partially thinking I should just sleeve up Jeskai Black. I got a bit of testing in against Ramp before start time, and I fought back from an absolutely brilliant start by my opponent, who was looking at a potential turn 5 Ulamog (I’d Duressed him – I knew he could do it). At that point I started to wonder if the Deck was the real deal. The rest of the night was concerning as I ended 1-1-2. Two draws is not where you want to be, ever. I decided to stay with the deck because I knew it could pull amazing things out of the bag. The match I won, game 1 was a mull to 4, play no lands for the next 3 turns, and promptly win. So I went home, made my changes, and went to bed at 1.30 am.

Maindeck

2            Duress

3            Fiery Impulse

1            Wild Slash

1            Magmatic Insight

1            Roast

1            Grasp of Darkness

2            Disdainful Stroke

4            Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

2            Kolaghan’s Command

2            Ruinous Path

2            Read the Bones

2            Jori En, Ruin Diver

3            Kalitas, Traitor of Get

3            Goblin Dark-Dwellers

3            Murderous Cut

2            Dig Through Time

 

4            Wandering Fumarole

2            Smoldering Marsh

2            Sunken Hollow

4            Bloodstained Mire

4            Polluted Delta

2            Flooded Strand

2            Wooded Foothills

1            Island

2            Mountain

3            Swamp

 

 

Sideboard

2            Dispel

1            Negate

1            Disdainful Stroke

2            Transgress the Mind

2            Infinite Obliteration

1            Virulent Plague

1            Tasigur, the Golden Fang

2            Roast

2            Radiant Flames

1            Chandra, Flamecaller

 

 

Round 1 – RB Dragons

As always happens, round 1 was a friend of mine. He’d brought a deck I’d been tempted to run a while back, so knew pretty well. Game one, my removal matched his threats poorly as my Fiery Impulse wasn’t active to kill his Drana, so I had to use my Ruinous Path, despite knowing that there was a dragon in hand. This was maybe the wrong move, but I felt that Drana was great with any creatures, while the Thuderbreak is always just a dragon. I got smooshed.

Most of the big threats are 4 and above so the “in”s are fairly clear; Disdainful Stroke, Transgress the Minds, and Chandra. Jori En as a 2/3 isnt the best body in the world on the attack, and all the threats are in the air. Roast is mostly dead. And if I’m on Chandra, I need my lands, so no Insight.

Game two was a fail, my opponent mulled down to 5, kept a hand with a load of cheap interaction and 1 land, and saw land 2 on turn 6. Game 3 was more interactive. He was a little slow to his 4th land drop, but I had a Kalitas on board with a hand of Disdainful Stroke, kill spells and Chandra. My opponent turned it into a race, but Kalitas was turning the tide quickly. I ran my opponent out of cards, and I played Chandra. I moved on to 1-0.

 

Round 2 – 4C Rally

The Rally deck may very well be the strongest thing to be playing in standard right now. It does require a competent pilot, however, and a few people noted that at the end of the day there were Rally decks on the top tables, and at the bottom of the room, not vary many in between. In this instance the pilot was (very) competent and in game one landed a turn 5 kill. I Read the Bones and play a tap land, passing the turn with 16 life, my opponent with a Husk and a Jace on board, Cocos in Reflector Mage and Catacomb Sifter, and tells me he has rally in hand. We go to game 2.

I want board wipes, hand attack, and counter spells, so in came the Dispels, the Negate, the Disdainful Stroke, the radiant flames, the Chandra and the Transgress the mind. Jori En is again not a great body and falls at a poor time in the curve, when I want to either hold up a counter for Coco, or be transgressing if I’m a bit off curve. I feel like Read the bones is doing my opponents job here, and as it’s a sorcery speed play on 3, I’m not sure I want it here, but I could be wrong. The Goblins were trimmed down by one, and the Jaces by two. These were ugly cuts, but I thought I needed to do it.

I honestly can’t remember this game very well. I managed to turn it into a grind fest with hand attack and counters, but in the end, my opponent developed a board and managed to bounce my Kalitas to combo off.

 

Round 3 – Esper Control

Here is a deck I thought I wouldn’t be seeing any time soon. Decks still good though, and it’s a style a lot of people enjoy (myself somewhat included). Game one my opponent killed my early threats and then landed a Narset Transcendent, which went uncontested too long and basically took the game for my opponent. He killed me with his Shambling Vent, leading me to an incorrect conclusion – I didn’t realise he was on Ojutai.

My sideboard was to bring in all of my disruption and counters, as well as Tasigur as an early threat, and Chandra as a big one. The Impulses came out, as did the Roast, and the magmatic insight. Wild Slash, Grasp, and Cut were reluctant removals to fit the package I was looking for. I wanted enough Instant speed removal for the lands, but I figured if it came to that, I was probably dead. Ruinous Path stayed in to deal with the ‘walkers I was expecting. Other than that, I was on the plan of: stick a threat, and protect it.

Game 2 I managed to attack my opponent’s hand, so that my creatures were left uncontested, and my opponent quickly conceded to give us the best chance of finishing a third game. Game 3, my opponent managed to do what I did in game 2, get cards out of my hand, and then landed an Ojutai that I didn’t even realise was in his deck. Next turn I didn’t draw any of my 5 answers so I played Kalitas and passed the turn back. My opponent smashed me with Ojutai, because we were running low on time, or I’d imagine my opponent would have waited a bit more. Fortunately I ripped a Ruinous Path of the top, killed the Ojutai, and proceeded to top deck perfectly to pull out the win. This was definitely a game where it all came together nicely, but the fact that the deck has outs in that situation is a point in its favour.

 

Round 4 – Mono-Red Agro

I’m not massively shocked that this was the first I’d seen of “agro” in its pure form. The format is fairly fast in comparison as is, and all of the other decks get more options to use. This build was mono red, making use of Exquisite Firecraft to give it the last little push if an opponent has survived the Bushwhacker turn. I made sure I was above 4 life as best as possible, refusing to crack fetches early, the minor thinning effect isn’t worth the life here. And in game one that came up, as I went to 5 life with a fetch in play. Kalitas saved my bacon here, I decided that having cleared my opponent’s board and gotten a zombie from the deal, it was time to crack back. I was going to just do 3 gain 3 as my opponent had one card in hand, but having thought about it my opponent could do at most 8 (by my thinking) with 2 cards, so leaving 1 blocker was the same as gaining extra life, but I also get to increase my clock, so I sacrificed the zombie and turned it into a 10 point life swing. This also protected my Kalitas from any one burn spell. Which was all my opponent had. We moved to sideboarding having taken a game 1 against agro.

Disdainful Stroke has basically no targets here, and Read the Bones does your opponent’s job for them and is a mana cost to not affect the board. They came out. In came Radiant Flames, which isn’t as fun without Soulfire Grandmaster, Tasigur to block early and well, as well as replacement card advantage later, and my pet card Virulent Plague. GerryT noted the problems of this deck against the Bushwhacker combo, and went with 2 Kozilek’s Returns to help, but it’s not good against Rally. So I went with the plague, which not only wipes the board of tokens, but also strands any further token generators in hand. It’s also better against ascendancy tokens, which was back on my radar because of the game day results at Dark Sphere.

Game 2 was similar to the first, except my Tasigur got roasted (my turn 1 Duress taking a Firecraft, and then a fetch on 2 and 3 to give me a Turn 3 Tasigur). I got quickly attached down to 5 again, with a fetch in play. Virulent Plague came down onto an empty board, but I had no other defence against the Bushwhacker combo, not even a creature to play. 6 turns later my Kalitas had once again turned the tide, and my opponent had only Firecrafted me back down to five. I assumed my opponent was holding a grip of token makers, turns out there was a Hordeling Outburst, and 5 lands in hand. Either way, seams good to me. I’m now 3-1 up.

 

Round 5 – Mardu Eldrazi

It made it! Not in my hands, but my opponent had gone all in on the Eldrazi stuff for Mardu colours, with Kalitas and Chandra in there as well. Game 1 Duress proved its worth taking a Chandra and showing me I needed to not play my Jace next turn due to the Impulse. I’d mulliganed and was on the play, so I deployed my bigger threats and saw my opponent search for a kill spell, even cycling a Hallowed Moonlight (which I amusingly got to respond to by killing his Kalitas and still getting a zombie from mine). My opponent found nothing and was dead in short order.

In came the Transgress the Minds, Disdainful Stroke, both Roasts, Tasigur and Chandra. This deck can try and go wide by flickering Pia and Kira Nalaar, but I felt I had enough tools for that. Once again Insight came out because of Chandra, as did the Duresses, Wild Slash, an Impulse and the 2 Jori En because a lot of the cheap spells were gone. A lot of the threats are 3-5 toughness, and I’m not too worried about their spells, I wanted to grind.

Game 2, the plan started well, but my opponent stuck a Displacer, which blanked my Kalitas for a couple of turns. My opponent found a Gilt-Leaf Winnower to kill my Kalitas before a second Displacer came down, and now my removal spells were effectively dead, and then so was I. Game 3, my opponent tried to get the same lock to work, but I managed to kill the Displacer quickly this time. 2 Transgress the Minds took a Thought-Knot Seer and a Dragonlord Kolaghan, showing a dead Impulse and a stranded Winnower, as well as a Smasher that I held a land to kill and Goblin Dark-Dwellers with no targets in the yard. My hand matched up perfectly, so I moved on to 4-1.

Round 6 – Abzan Blue

This is the match where I started calling Kalitas “The Truth”. The card is just bonkers. Again, up against a friend, for what we thought was a win and in. Game one, my opponent dropped a couple of Warden of the First Trees fairly early, but I eventually got them under control. My opponent however managed to build a board despite all of my kill spells, and attacked me down to 2. Fortunately the main board Disdainful Stroke dealt with the Rhino I knew about because my opponent had revealed it from an Oath of Nissa. Then, with Kalitas on the board I went to work, killing things, making zombies and then gaining enough life to get me out of Rhino range while also leaving me a board presence to block, and then crack back for lethal.

This decks threats are generally quite large, at 3-5 CMC, so I loaded up on my spells for that, with the extra Disdainful Stroke, the 2 Transgress the Minds, and the 2 Roasts. Maybe I should have also brought in the Chandra and the Tasigur for the Jori Ens, but this felt like it was the match where they should have shone. They did not, because Kalitas stole the show again. Turning all of your removal spells into a 2 for 1 proposition is brilliant.

Game 2 began by going my opponent’s way. At one point, staring down a board of 2 creatures, a Gideon, and a knight ally token, at just 4 life, I got to untap with Kalitas. I killed off the creatures and got to attack the Gideon down to 1 loyalty. I then chump blocked the Gideon with a zombie on the back swing, finally killing him on the next turn and gaining 5 life. I then gave my Kalitas free reign in attacking, holding up kill spells and the mana to sacrifice zombies to make him bigger. My opponent congratulated me on a well fought game and I moved on to being 5-1, thinking I was locked for top 8.

Round 7 – 4C Rally

I was wrong. It looked like I needed to play because my tiebreakers were bad and there had been a surprising number of unintentional draws. Fortunately, I was saved actually working it out, as my opponent had one of those draws, so he needed to win to get in anyway. This particular match is up on Dark Sphere’s twitch, so I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say, my opponent only saw one reflector mage in both games we played. Kalitas had his run of the battlefield, with him and Jori En working like a symphony together, drawing cards and giving me zombies. I got to control both games and bring them to a close before my opponent could get much value from any Rally or Collected Companies.

It’s worth noting that my sideboard plan was different than earlier as I am starting to think Transgress the mind doesn’t really work here so I stuck with counter magic and board wipes backed up by Kalitas. So in came the 3 counters, the 2 Radiant Flames. Chandra Stayed out as well. Jori En, Magmatic Insight and Read the Bones came out.

Game two, my opponent once again attempted to bounce my Kalitas, only succeeding for a little while. Then I got to run him over before he got his engine online.

Quaterfinals – Jeskai Ascendancy (Combo)

This match feels like a coin flip, as occasionally I get to play magic, and other times I watch my opponent slice through his entire deck and find the answers. Again, this game is on DS’s channel, but basically I won the games where my opponent didn’t manage to get ascendancy to do anything, this was often because I was trying to just run them out of anything in hand, often pointing 2 removal spells at the same target to try and make my opponent play out their hand just to defend their threats. Unfortunately, this only really works if your opponent doesn’t manage to topdeck 2 massive draw spells in a row and start combo-ing off. I also miss sideboarded between games 1 and 2, thinking my opponent was on some instant speed kill plan with elemental uprisings, not realising he could win with tokens as well. I fixed this for game 3, and while those cards didn’t actually help, I got fortunate in that my opponents deck didn’t really get to go off.

Semifinals – Jeskai Ascendancy (Tokens)

This was similar to the quarterfinals, in that, if I ran my opponent out of spells, and then they couldn’t draw enough to get them out of it, I got there. The ways of interacting against the ascendancy decks are very minimal for Grixis colours, so I actually try and go a bit faster. Unfortunately for me, by opponent managed to find the gap, find the line that saw him to victory, but as I barely understand this deck, I have a limited understanding of how to fight it. My negates and transgresses came back in, as did the plague. I really think my sideboard plan here is quite weak, but I’m not sure how to improve it. Using the Dispels is an idea but it feels sort of pointless to be fighting over very replaceable effects.

 

And there we have it. Two back to back matches against decks I don’t understand. I might have had game against the eventual winner, but I guess we will never know. I enjoyed the day though, and this was my best finish to date. My plan now is to redouble my efforts to get to the next stage, whilst also not allowing my apparent success go to my head. Magic is very affected by variance and chance. This particular tournament, I just got to get to be the one getting there. I have already noted some of my mistakes made, and will be looking to make improvements to my game.