Well, I thought that our group had a great list set up for the Starcitygames Open this weekend in Cincinnati.  And as I write this, the tournament is less than 24 hours away and I still do not know exactly what I am playing.  I do believe that I know a lot about this format that doesn’t even exist yet – which should give me a little bit of an upper hand in the event.  But settling on a deck is hard.

The list that we thought we had down tight to crush the expected meta was a junk (GWB) midrange deck focusing on value cards like Attended Knight, Trostani, and Thragtusk.  We accomplished our goals of stomping zombies consistently and beating a variety of control decks through a slow aggro approach.  However, as the control lists in our gauntlet improved the way that they beat zombies without conceding to midrange, we found that our deck was extremely weak to a few strategies that are going to be very important in the next standard.  Additionally, the Zombie decks in our gauntlet improved as we figured out which strategies were working and which were not.  At this point, we have abandoned our Junk midrange plan, but here is the final version of the list that we had gotten to:

 

Creatures: Sorceries: Sideboard:
3 Deathrite Shaman 4 Call of the Conclave 1 Odric, Master Tactician
4 Attended Knight 4 Farseek 2 Oblivion Ring
3 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice 3 Lingering Souls 2 Rest in Peace
2 Restoration Angel 4 Sever the Bloodline 2 Rootborn Defenses
4 Thragtusk 2 Selesnya Charm
1 Armada Wurm Lands: 3 Liliana of the Veil
1 Forest 1 Vraska the Unseen
Planeswalkers: 2 Plains 2 Terminus
2 Garruk Relentless 1 Gavony Township
2 Vault of the Archangel
Instants: 4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Rootborn Defenses 4 Temple Garden
4 Sunpetal Grove
4 Isolated Chapel
3 Woodland Cemetery

 

The idea here was to play spells every turn that were bigger than what Zombies could handle, were resilient to removal, and were strong enough to finish the game without a dedicated finisher.  The issues we kept running into were:

–          Jace and Curse of Death’s Hold were both very effective against us unless we had the one-of Gavony Township.  During the last little bit of our time testing this deck, I wanted to add more Gavony Townships to combat this, and that might be a good route towards improving the control and midrange matchups.

–          Aggro decks with Rancor were going over the top of us too quickly.  While a card like Attended Knight is very good against normal aggro decks, when the opponent is curving out with a Rancor involved, he is often not big enough to actual stop the attacking force.

–          Trostani is awesome against aggro, but I feel like there are still effective ways to beat aggro decks that don’t rely on overextending your board to get advantage of her abilities.  Against control, she was very underwhelming and in the midrange mirrors, she had to be online almost immediately to make an impact.  She is also pretty embarrassing when you tap out for her and she just dies to Dreadbore without doing anything.

So at this point, we needed to find a deck that doesn’t have the same weaknesses as the Junk Midrange build but has similarly effective matchups against Zombies.  We do not feel confident in building a dedicated control deck just yet without knowing the meta we are looking at, so we tried a couple different approaches.

The first approach we were taking is a removal heavy Jund deck.  Between Dreadbore, Mizzium Mortars, Pillar of Flame, and Sever the Bloodline we feel confident that we can kill anything that is thrown at us.  The big problem that we are running into is determining the appropriate creatures to play.  Olivia Voldaren is what originally drew me towards Jund, but the lack of other powerful threats has led to our opponent’s almost always having removal for her.  I know at least two people in our car are for sure on Jund, I just have to test a bit more here in the home stretch to decide.  Here is the current “team” list:

 

Creatures: Sorceries: Sideboard:
3 Deathrite Shaman 2 Dreadbore 1 Kessig Wolf Run
3 Borderland Ranger 4 Farseek 4 Ravenous Rats
4 Thragtusk 3 Mizzium Mortars 3 Liliana of the Veil
4 Pillar of Flame 1 Garruk Relentless
Planeswalkers: 3 Sever the Bloodline 1 Vraska the Unseen
2 Garruk Relentless 2 Rakdos Charm
1 Vraska the Unseen Lands: 1 Rakdos’s Return
1 Blood Crypt 1 Bonfire of the Damned
Instants: 2 Dragonskull Summit 1 Sever the Bloodline
3 Desperate Ravings 4 Forest
2 Kessig Wolf Run
Enchantments: 1 Mountain
3 Abundant Growth 4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Curse of Death’s Hold 4 Rootbound Crag
1 Steam Vents
1 Swamp
1 Woodland Cemetery

 

Heartburn in Ravnica can prove to be fatal.

The problem I see with this list is that sometimes it just isn’t going to have a way to win the game.  I see this problem being greatest against an Esper Control build. Vraska seems like the main win condition in that game, but only because she kills everything of theirs, not because the assassins are actually going to connect.  The Curse of Death’s Hold feels a bit out of place, and if I were going to end up running this archetype I would probably cut those for Olivia or Huntmaster (or my other favorite new card you’ll read about soon!).  I also think that one more Dreadbore and one less Sever the Bloodline might be correct.  The Farseek into Steam Vents for Desperate Ravings seems sweet but might be a little greedy.

The other list that I am considering running is a Junk Aggro list that I have been working on.  Most people don’t seem to think that it’s very good – and they could very well be right.  Though, in my testing against Zombies and Jund, I have been consistently over 60% and the deck has a lot of reach through control strategies.  Here’s my brew:

 

Creatures: Enchantments:
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim 4 Rancor
4 Arbor Elf
4 Loxodon Smiter Lands:
4 Dreg Mangler 4 Forest
4 Deadbridge Goliath 3 Gavony Township
4 Thragtusk 1 Isolated Chapel
2 Strangleroot Geist 4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Temple Garden
Planeswalkers: 4 Sunpetal Grove
2 Garruk Relentless 4 Woodland Cemetery
Sorceries:
4 Sever the Bloodline

 

This deck is still in its early stages, which probably doesn’t make it a great choice for the Open.  However, this deck is BIG.  Curving out Mana Dork -> Smiter/Mangler -> Deadbridge Goliath is big game.  Throw Rancor in the mix and you have a resilient killing machine.  A Scavenge creature with a Rancor doesn’t even die as you move towards the late game because all of his power/toughness + trample just come back onto whatever other creature you still have.  The deck is fairly weak to Sever the Bloodline, but I am hopeful that most people haven’t realized how awesome that card is yet.  Oh, and we still get to play Thragtusk, who is just a complete house.  I am sure that this deck shouldn’t actually include all of these 4-ofs, but like I said, it is still early.  I tested out Attended Knight at the 3 slot and he is much weaker than Dreg Mangler.  Some number of Oblivion Rings main deck might be right to deal with Planeswalkers or enchantments.  I also could see putting an Armada Wurm in the main deck to having something sweet to tutor up with Garruk in the late game. The sideboard will definitely feature a combination of O-Rings and Golgari Charms for the control matchup.

 

In conclusion, I was pretty bummed to give up on the Trostani plan, but I still feel good about the decks we have in front of us for the weekend.  The reanimator matchup is still a bit scary for either of these choices, but post board we can hopefully solve that.  I really like Sever the Bloodline a lot.  It just solves all of the world’s problems – whether that is a giant Lotleth Troll, multiple Gravecrawlers, Angel of Serenity, Entreat the Angels, etc.  I am looking forward to playing in Cincinnati even though I am still unsure about what I am playing.  I will let you know if I end up finding anything successful for the tournament.  Thanks for reading!

Alex Binek

@PTQChamp on Twitter