MTG Reporter - PPTQ Sydney, 1st Place [Jared Tomlinson - Battlemage, Level 41]
It was my last shot. After a long string of mediocre finishes or losses in the quarterfinals, I had one last PPTQ for Sydney. This weekend is GP Albuquerque, and I would miss the last two PPTQs of the season. I had been thoroughly demoralized with Standard over the last few months — my weapon of choice had been Bant Company.
Rally was clearly the best deck in OGW Standard and I fell into the trap of just not playing the best deck. After five pure Collected Company misses with Bant Company, I was done with Standard, even skipping a PPTQ — something that’s uncharacteristic for me.
Looking at Shadows Over Innistrad, it was clear early that white is likely to be the best color in the new format. Declaration in Stone and Archangel Avacyn are very strong cards that are going to define the next 18 months while they're legal. The first deck I toyed with was a new version of Bant Company because of familiarity. The deck had to be primarily green and blue to play with Lumbering Falls, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and Sylvan Advocate (which is much worse in base green-white). The mana was passable, and Jace plays a role in mana-fixing as well as flashing back spells, and stifling aggressive decks which I had assumed others would show up with. The deck seemed great, but it wasn’t playing Archangel Avacyn — the mana wasn’t good enough.
Leading up to the first week of new Standard, there was a BW Control list posted on Channel Fireball that caught my attention, and this was the second deck that I wanted to toy with. You have many of the best answers with Ob Nixilis Reignited, Declaration in Stone, Languish, and Grasp of Darkness, and some great closers with Avacyn, Westvale Abbey, Sorin, Grim Nemesis, and Secure the Wastes.
The primary issue that I had with this strategy is that it was basically reactive, something I try not to do in week 1 of a new format. With mana becoming much worse in Standard, being proactive is where I wanted to land. The problem with the BW Control deck was that I thought it had a hard time closing a game fast enough to beat the Ramp deck, and I had grown tired of having my world broken and watching sequels of Kozilek returning.
Another aspect of this new format is that the Red Deck Wins (or Vampire Deck Wins) seemed to be poor or a trap in testing. Jace, while still amazing, also seemed much less good in the new format since it wasn’t as reliable to transform.
When Oath of the Gatewatch was released, I was toying with a BW Eldrazi strategy. That deck was decent at the infamous Food Court PPTQ, but there was some punch that was missing — a problem that I thought had been fixed now. Serena Quinn recommended that I give this deck a second look now that this set came out, and I’m grateful for the advice.
My estimate of the metagame based on what people play locally and what they tend to play in a new format were primarily RG Ramp, Mono-Red Eldrazi, and hyper-aggressive Red or RB decks (likely due to card availability). The BW deck has life gain in the mana base, along with Sorin, Grim Nemesis, and gets to play great threats and answers. To give it the punch that I wanted — I focused on the Eldrazi package of Matter Reshaper, Thought-Knot Seer, and Reality Smasher. These creatures are all equivalent or bigger than the smaller red creatures in both Mono-Red and Red Eldrazi. You also have sufficient disruption for the Ramp and other Control decks as well as a quick clock. All of the boxes I had were checked.
I opted to play a base White and Colorless deck, splashing for only Sorin, Grim Nemesis in the main deck. Setting the deck up this way lets me play Knight of the White Orchid, which is again great against the hyper-aggressive decks, draws a card almost every time against the ramp deck, and let me steal back the play if I lost the die roll. I also got to play powerful sideboard cards that were black.
The deck didn’t play Languish, as again, I wanted to be attacking, so I was concerned with losing to horizontal strategies. Serena recommended a second Virulent Plague in the sideboard to avoid losing to the RB “kill everything” deck, as well as Secure the Wastes, and annoying planeswalkers with tokens.
BW Eldrazi - Jared Tomlinson
As far as the sideboard goes, I wanted many cards to deal with hyper-aggressive decks, so I played two Archangel of Tithes to replace Gideon after Game 1, as well as a pair of Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim for the Red Eldrazi matchup, and four Surge of Righteousness. For Ramp, I had three Transgress the Mind and an Anguished Unmaking for their threats. I largely passed on cards for control matchups as I felt that Esper Dragons would both be an acceptable matchup as well as underrepresented.
The tournament was 28 players and 5 rounds — I think location and card availability were both major factors in the event’s attendance. The players in the room were largely on Red, Red Eldrazi, and RG ramp, with a few control decks (Esper and BW) and Company decks of a few different flavors.
Round 1 - RG Ramp (2-0)
This match was over in about 15 minutes or so, as a combination of Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher quickly close out games. I made one major mistake in this match that could have cost me a game, I attacked two Reality Smashers into a 4/5 Sylvan Advocate, which blocked. When my opponent cast a Kozilek’s Return for 2, I hastily cast Avacyn to save my creature — leaving me vulnerable to the back-half of Kozilek’s Return next turn. My opponent missed and I was not punished for my poor play. I was the first match done in the room.
Round 2 - RG Ramp (2-0)
This match ended even faster than the last round for all of the same reasons. Again, I was the first match done in the event.
Round 3 - Red Eldrazi (2-1)
My first game loss of the event came in Round 3 when I mulliganed to five, and while I made a game out of it, I couldn’t overcome the resource disparity. In game 2, my opponent didn’t draw lands and had his reality smashed. The third game, we both mulliganed to six and I had the best of it. The matchup seemed a little close, and it’s important to do mental Eldrazi Obligator math so that you don’t die out of nowhere.
I double-drew into Top 8 which put me in 4th seed and on the play in the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinals - Red Eldrazi Rematch (2-0)
My round 6 opponent was a rematch of Round 3, but I was able to win in 2 games. He had mana issues again and my deck does a great job of punishing poor starts.
Semifinals - UW Control (2-0)
Round 7 had me paired against an actual control deck! Thought-Knot Seer revealed multiple Clash of Wills. I think without the card draw payoffs in the previous Standard format, it seemed tough for the control deck to get ahead of me in cards. Declaration in Stone giving me clue tokens allowed me to draw into additional threats. The only relevant play I remember from this match was flashing in Archangel Avacyn at the end of my opponent’s turn, allowing them to counter it and letting me untap and play Reality Smasher, which is what I preferred to have resolve.
Finals - Karttik Patel (2-1) - GW Tokens
My finals opponent was Karttik, who I have basically a 0% win rate against regardless of format or matchup. We prize-split the store credit and were just playing for the invite, which I appreciated. I was on the play for this match. The first game I was able to grind him out, though it was mentally exhausting and very close. Game two I lost to probably 8 Crusade effects from Gideon and Nissa. I made sure to have both Virulent Plagues in my deck, but I still had never drawn one the entire tournament. The third game was decided on the back of Virulent Plague, shutting off Nissa while my deck executed its aggressive game plan. Of note, we both kept getting warnings for Declaration in Stone — make sure that the targeted creature goes to exile and that your opponent gets a Clue. Our match was almost decided by an obscene amount of warnings for both of us.
Overall, the deck’s performance was great. There were a few holes that I had found in the deck that need to be fixed going forward. There aren’t enough two-drops to play off playing Knight of the White Orchid on turn 3 and getting the extra land. Often times I would get to ramp and then do nothing — and represent nothing. While I have enough colorless sources in the deck, I could see wanting a few more. The results from the SCG Baltimore Open show that people were playing Hedron Crawler which cleans up this gap somewhat. Westvale Abbey was underwhelming, making only two Humans for me the whole day and never transforming. The fact that it’s a colorless source that is “Plan D” means I don’t think it’ll ever be completely cut from the deck.
It turns out that Bant Company ended up winning the SCG Open — a base Green/Blue deck just the way I had drawn it up. The conclusion I had missed was cutting Deathmist Raptor to make mana better and allow you to play Archangel Avacyn. I hope the BW deck is good in future weeks of Standard, but I was satisfied with its performance, and happy to qualify for Shadows Over Innistrad sealed.
Thanks for reading!
A Little Bit about Jared Tomlinson
Jared Tomlinson is a case administrator at PucaTrade. He's been playing Magic off and on since the 1990s and likes to play Commander, Standard, and Limited formats.