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  • REVIEW OF THE WEEK

    by Stephen Murray
    Friday 27th November 2015

  • Aloha! Another week, another standard GP. I hope this one has some new and interesting decks. Better watch out though, I have very high standards!

    Oh no, this GP is meeting all my standards!

    Click here for Grand Prix Kobe coverage

    As expected, there's some Abzan and Atarka Red, with Atarka Red winning the whole thing. There weren't any particularly unique things about them, but I do want to draw attention to those Act of Treason in the Atarka Red sideboard. Can you imagine casting that on an Ulamog or Dragonlord Atarka?

    The first deck I want to highlight is Joh Soh's BW Warriors deck.

    BW Warriors - Joh Soh [2nd]
    MAIN DECKSIDEBOARD


    2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
    4 Blood-Chin Rager
    4 Mardu Woe-Reaper
    4 Mardu Strike Leader
    4 Chief of the Edge
    2 Wasteland Strangler
    4 Bloodsoaked Champion
    2 Kytheon, Hero of Akros / Gideon, Battle-Forged
    3 Valorous Stance
    3 Stasis Snare
    4 Silkwrap


    4 Caves of Koilos
    4 Polluted Delta
    4 Flooded Strand
    2 Shambling Vent
    1 Sunken Hollow
    1 Prairie Stream
    1 Windswept Heath
    4 Plains
    3 Swamp


    1 Wasteland Strangler
    1 Stasis Snare
    1 Valorous Stance
    2 Ultimate Price
    2 Transgress the Mind
    2 Secure the Wastes
    1 Negate
    3 Disdainful Stroke
    2 Mastery of the Unseen



    BW Warriors was always a sweet draft deck, and now it's made it to constructed at last. This is a natural consequence of players moving away from Shock-based removal to Esper playing more expensive spot removal. This deck is also quite good against the landfall versions of Atarka Red because it has a bunch of effective removal spells against all of their creatures. You even have 6 main deck instant answers to an Immense creature!

    So yeah, this is a creature deck that's pretty decent against other creature decks, especially if you manage to pull off a Wasteland Strangler for value. Against non-creature decks, this deck can be very inconsistent. If you draw too many removal spells, the game drags on and your cards are just overpowered, there's only so much work a 2/1 for 1 can do when you draw it on turn 7 after all.

    This deck is also very weak against the card Ugin, the Spirit Dragon if it resolves. You can play around it a little bit by making sure to never expose Mardu Strike Leader to removal, but if the opponent casts Ugin then untaps, then there isn't much this deck can do.

    Why should you play this over say, Abzan Aggro? Well, I'd argue that this is actually a slightly better Gideon deck. Gideon is best when ahead on board, so the best way to do that is to flood the board before he comes down, rather than have to decide if you are playing Gideon or Rhino first. Abzan often isn't actually that good at the 'Aggro' part of the deck if you don't draw a copy of your only 1 drop, and while the cards are more powerful in the abstract, the extra time it takes to get online often ends up with Abzan being overpowered by other decks with Ojutais, Atarkas and Rally the Ancestors.

    So when playing a deck like BW Warriors, you always have a shot of going underneath the opponents defences, much like the red decks do. Going first, making a 2/1, then making 2 more on turn 2 is pretty awesome.

    Wait, so is Atarka Red not just better then? Well, perhaps it's a better deck at killing people in a vacuum, but BW Warriors has some advantages in the metagame. First, everyone knew about Atarka Red. Sideboard cards have been increasingly moving towards being more things like Surge of Righteousness, and less like Arashin Cleric. Warriors also has great removal, being able to handle things like Hangarback and Siege Rhino with relative ease. Warriors also has a better sideboard in general, with cards like Secure the Wastes and Disdainful Stroke letting you play somewhat conservatively around enemy sweepers. If the Atarka one-two punch is 'creature + Become Immense', the Warriors combo of 'Secure the Wastes + mass pump effect' requires a different set of instant answers.

    I think in the near future, Warriors will be a fine choice. The deck looks a bit scrappy, but played well it comes in at just the right angle right now.

    The next deck I want to look at is Shota Takao's Esper... midrange?

    Esper - Shota Takao [4th]
    MAIN DECKSIDEBOARD


    4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
    1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
    4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy / Jace, Telepath Unbound
    4 Seeker of the Way
    4 Monastery Mentor
    2 Dragonlord Ojutai
    4 Duress
    2 Despise
    2 Ruinous Path
    2 Treasure Cruise
    1 Ultimate Price
    2 Valorous Stance
    2 Murderous Cut
    1 Silkwrap


    4 Shambling Vent
    4 Caves of Koilos
    2 Prairie Stream
    1 Sunken Hollow
    4 Polluted Delta
    4 Flooded Strand
    1 Evolving Wilds
    2 Plains
    2 Swamp
    1 Island


    1 Ultimate Price
    1 Silkwrap
    1 Planar Outburst
    2 Surge of Righteousness
    2 Self-Inflicted Wound
    2 Disdainful Stroke
    1 Dispel
    2 Stratus Dancer
    1 Mastery of the Unseen
    2 Knight of the White Orchid



    Adding to standard's vast, vast array of viable decks with Black and White cards in them, this deck takes some elements of Esper Dragons and Esper Planeswalkers and Esper tokens and jams them all into one spicy stew.

    Heavy on hand disruption, the deck aims to quickly ensure the opponent doesn't have a good answer to Jace, Gideon or Monastery Mentor, before riding the card advantage provided to victory with a selection of removal spells for backup. The deck has Ruinous Path over Utter End mostly to try and keep costs down, because the deck wants to quickly transition into a mid-game deck where it casts 2 spells a turn to overpower the opponent.

    I do like the core strategy of Duress + Jace against other control decks, and just in general having all these insanely powerful threats in one deck is going to make this quite scary. All these Black/White/X variants are making sideboarding quite difficult, especially if you kill the opponent quickly!

    Overall I like this deck, though it's actually quite a bit like The Rock. You can easily draw the wrong parts of the deck at the wrong time or against the wrong opponent, for example drawing some Duress after the opponent already has a squad of Goblins in play, or drawing Ultimate Price and Valorous Stance while the opponent has Ob Nixilis. This deck will always be solid, but I don't think it absolutely dominates anyone either. Ironically, if you like Abzan in modern, this plays more like it than current standard Abzan!

    Let's see, what else was there? Esper Dragons... BW Tokens... more Esper Dragons... Part the Waterveil Ramp?

    UG Ramp - Pavel Matousek [6th]
    MAIN DECKSIDEBOARD


    4 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
    2 Kiora, Master of the Depths
    2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer / Nissa, Sage Animist
    4 Rattleclaw Mystic
    4 Leaf Gilder
    4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
    4 Nissa's Renewal
    3 Nissa's Pilgrimage
    4 Part the Waterveil
    4 Explosive Vegetation
    2 Dig Through Time


    1 Prairie Stream
    4 Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
    8 Forest
    4 Lumbering Falls
    3 Island
    3 Windswept Heath


    1 Sanctum of Ugin
    3 Dispel
    4 Jaddi Offshoot
    4 Winds of Qal Sisma
    1 Void Winnower
    2 Conduit of Ruin



    Nice! The ramp deck continues to evolve in interesting ways. Part the Waterveil is a card that popped up just a little bit last week in the background of some events, but here it made a big splash, as waterveils are known to do.

    This version trims back on cards like Hangarback Walker and Jaddi Offshoot from other versions, instead deciding to play a full 8 2-mana 2/1 mana creatures. This certainly leads to more and better nut-draws, since curving Rattleclaw Mystic into Explosive Vegetation into Nissa's Renewal is certainly a very fast route to playing Ulamog. The blue splash also gets you Kiora and Dig Through Time to help you with some card selection, rather than completely being at the mercy of the top of your deck.

    What Part the Waterveil (now PtW) does is... well about half the time it's a big Explore in practice. A lot of the time, if you have the board presence required to do something other than play another mana source and draw a card, you don't really need too much more to win anyway. More than that though the other half of the time, it gives the deck another angle of attack if plan A of Ulamog gets Obliterated or otherwise doesn't turn up.

    You won't win many games with an attack team of Leaf Gilders and Nissa, but if you get to a point in the game where you have 6 power in random utility creatures lying around you just Awaken PtW. If the opponent is defenceless from attempting to kill you before Ulamog hits, that can just be game over right on the spot. PtW forces the opponent into a no-win dilemma, where if they play scared of PtW, they slow down and get smashed by Ulamog, but if they get reckless, well you can just kill them too.

    So is this deck just unbeatable now?

    I don't quite think so! As noted, with the removal of cards like Hangarback and Atarka and removal in the sideboard, this deck is basically helpless if it stumbles. And stumble you will! With fewer ramp spells that cost less than 6 in this deck, if your 2/1 guys get killed you can easily find yourself keeping a reasonable hand then looking at 5 uncastables in hand on turn 6.

    This vulnerability depends on the kind of removal the opponent is playing though, and if they have creatures already. This is where Atarka Red decks excel, as they can both pay less mana to kill a ramp creature and play threats before you even get them on board.

    To clarify what I mean, imagine a very basic scenario with ramp vs. another deck, and both players are making land drops. If you play Leaf Gilder, and they Silkwrap it, you both basically just skipped a turn. This is likely to be slightly in the ramp deck's favour if you are on the play. If on the draw, it's like you both skipped a turn, but they also got to attack for 2/use Jace or something like that, so it's in their favour. If you play Leaf Gilder, and they spend their turn playing a Murderous Cut on turn 3 instead of playing Anafenza, that's really not that bad for you, since you gain a lot of extra time with you not being punched by their 4/4.

    On the other hand, imagine if they made turn 1 Zurgo, then turn 2 Swiftspear/Wild Slash. At that point, you haven't ramped, you might not even have anything at all to play next turn, and at that point you may as well be thinking about sideboarding.

    All of this means that while the earlier ramp decks were touted as being favourable against the Jeskai menace, these blue builds will actually be much worse since they can meaningfully interact with a large section of your ramp spells, giving Mantis Rider or Tasigur plenty of time to beat you up. Oh, and don't forget what a disaster it is when you mulligan and you NEED that 2/1 to survive in order to get any more mana next turn at all!

    Still, overall it is a nice deck. As long as Atarka Red doesn't get even more popular, I think this is a good choice against most opponents. It's just so hard to compete with a deck like this when it gets going.

    So what should you play for next week? Well, I think I'd have to plump for a Dark Jeskai deck, making sure to have plenty of Wild Slashes. With more and more decks feeling safe to cast 2 toughness creatures, you can punish them with the classic turn 1 removal into turn 2 Jace.

    Stephen Murray



    @JechtMurray


    Best Gaming Performance? Top 8 World Magic Cup in 2012 as part of Team Scotland, 2 Pro Tour top 50s and 3 time National Champion.

    Favourite Format? 2HG Draft

    Favourite Deck? Competitively, Living End. Casually, any deck with Armadillo Cloak and Savage Beating.

    Lifetime Pro Points: 62