Round 10 Feature Match - Conley Woods vs. Christian Calcano
by Blake Rasmussen
It's always great to see a brewer brewing, and very few players in the world brew like Conley Woods. His four color midrange deck is "basically a bunch of the best cards in the format," leaving out anything Blue. The deck is really nothing like anything else in the room and we'll have a deck tech coming up soon (like next soon).
Calcano, on the other side of the table, had embraced Blue—as he usually does—and all the trappings of an Esper-Walker deck, including Magic's own Big Three—Tamiyo the Moon Sage; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; and Jace, Architect of Thought. Backed by Lingering Souls, Supreme Verdict and Dissipate, Calcano could eek out incremental advantage all over the place.
Woods started with an Overgrown Tomb and Avacyn's Pilgrim which, to less trained eyes, sure would look like the Hoof deck from last week. But an Isolated Chapel and Farseek for Blood Crypt disavowed any notion of that.
Calcano, meanwhile, was merely playing lands, quickly falling behind when Woods resolved Huntmaster of the Fells on turn three.
Reeling early, Calcano attempted to slow Woods down by using Azorius Charm to put Avacyn's Pilgrim on top of Wood's library, then followed up by removing the werewolf with Detention Sphere.
Woods continued to attack in, dropping Calcano to 11, but he was holding mostly air while Calcano started searching with Forbidden Alchemy.
Loxodon Smiter ratcheted up the pressure for Woods for about two seconds until Supreme Verdict cleared the field. Unburial Rites rebought the Loxodon Smiter, and Calcano fell to four the next turn before Sphinx's Revelation brought him right back up. He then erected a wall with Lingering Souls.
When Christian Calcano's Esper deck's shields are up, getting through is nearly impossible.
Woods attempted an Armada Wurm, something even Lingering Souls couldn't delay, but Thought Scour found Calcano a Dissipate, and when he played both Jace, Architect of Thought and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad the next turn, he looked to be taking the game over.
Still, Woods kept churning along, playing Huntmaster of the Fells before passing back. Calcano had a million options at his fingertips, and he was using all of them to stay ahead, making more tokens and using Jace's +1 to stall Wood's possible attacks.
Eventually, Calcano felt comfortable enough with his position to begin drawing cards with Jace while working Sorin towards a potentially devastating ultimate.
Yet Woods was at a whopping 27 life thanks to a resolved Thragtusk. When Calcano used Jace's Fact or Fiction-light ability again, it began to look like his library was running low.
But when Sorin stole Thragtusk, Huntmaster of the Fells and Loxodon Smiter, it didn't take long for Woods to concede the first game.
Calcano 1 – Woods 0
Two Avacyn's Pilgrims and a single land gave Woods pause when deciding whether to mulligan, eventually deciding to do so. He knew he'd have to draw pretty well to get the early pressure he needed.
"One land, two Avacyn's Pilgrims," Woods freely admitted to Calcano, shaking his head.
Calcano hesitated slightly, but opted to keep. The reason for the hesitation would become clear pretty quickly.
Woods kept his six, but did so with a little shake of the head, acknowledging he wasn't happy.
His Loxodon Smiter on turn three, though, suddenly looked a little better as Calcano started missing on Blue sources.
"Who got there?" Calcano said, playing a definitely non-blue land.
Ultimate Price killed the front side of Thragtusk, but a second one kept the pressure high, and it looked like Game 2 would be over quickly.
Calcano did finally find that Blue source, enabling Supreme Verdict, but was all the way down to 2 life when the Elephant token attacked in next turn.
When several draw spells turned up nothing of note the next turn, we were quickly on to Game 3.
Calcano 1 – Woods 1
A Blue source on turn one prompted a "must be nice" from the peanut gallery (i.e. Luis Scott-Vargas), but it didn't look so nice when Calcano missed his third land even after casting Think Twice.
That gave Woods plenty of time to resolve both Loxodon Smiter and Triumph of Ferocity before Calcano found his third land to enable Lingering Souls.
Not that that looked like very much in the face of Wood's menagerie. Thragtusk joined the party and threatened to let him run away with it.
Calcano, probably like many opponents today, slid Triumph of Ferocity over to look at it and shake his head.
Conley Woods four color midrange deck has enough twist and turns to leave his opponents battered and bruised.
"That's big game," he said before copying Thragtusk with Evil Twin. The way Triumph of Ferocity is worded, Woods gets to draw an extra card even if creatures are tied for the highest power.
Thragtusks traded on the next attack but, thanks to Triumph of Ferocity, Woods' hand was still stacked with powerful options.
One of them was the Kessig Wolf Run he played that threatened to make his creatures positively huge.
Calcano played Jace, Architect of Thought with his four mana, finding a Supreme Verdict but still forced to pass the turn back.
Woods killed Jace on the attack back before Supreme Verdict wiped his board. But Woods had kept mana up for Restoration Angel to keep from missing a beat—or a card from Triumph. Thragtusk came down before being tapped by Tamiyo, but it seemed less and less likely to matter with a Kessig Wolf Run in play.
Tamiyo died to another attack and Woods played enough on the board to represent a lethal attack unless Calcano had another Supreme Verdict. Instead, all he had was the flashback on Lingering Souls and the threat of Azorius Charm with untapped mana.
Woods could have pumped the Wolf Run for lethal on his next attack, but instead just put Calcano to five in order to play a second Thragtusk, virtually ensuring that a Supreme Verdict wouldn't be enough. If he had pumped fully, it's possible Azorius Charm into Supreme Verdict into schenanegans could have kept Calcano alive.
But with no such sequence forthcoming, Woods took the third game, the match and a record of 8-1-1 into Round 11.
Calcano 1 – Woods 2
Sunday, 11:22 a.m. - Deck tech with Conley Woods: 4-Color Value Rites
by Blake Rasmussen
Conley Woods has a habit of doing this.
He comes to a Standard Grand Prix with a relatively well-defined metagame toting a deck literally no one else in the room has. It's aimed squarely at the decks Woods wants to beat, and generally does so. His innovation leaves opponents bewildered and unsure how to proceed, while onlookers and lowly coverage reporters salivate over his latest creation.
Last time I witnessed Woods pull this trick was Grand Prix Orlando where he flipped the script on Primeval Titan and added Black instead of Red, riding the change all the way to a trophy. I like to think it bodes well for his chances this weekend that I'm here to document this particular tournament as well, but that's likely me attempting to insert myself into a narrative that needs no additional help to be interesting.
This is what happens when Conley Woods takes aim at a defined Standard format with one of his brews. Will this weekend end the same way?
This weekend, Woods has brewed up a four-color midrange value deck that seeks to utilize a number of value creatures—primarily Thragtusk, Huntmaster of the Fells and Restoration Angel—along with Unburial Rites to simply out 2-for-1 his opponent until they're dead. So far it's a strategy that has carried him all the way to an 8-1-1 record and a place among the tournament's leaders.
But the deck, which Woods started tuning on Tuesday, started in a very different place. It started with a certain legendary guild leader.
"It started off as a Rakdos, Lord of Riots as a Reanimator target or enabler," Woods said of the decks origins, which were documented and will be shown on Channelfireball this week. "You can just reanimate Rakdos as a 6/6 flier. It's far from embarrassing."
Originally, the deck was filled with cards that cost a single colored mana like Thragtusk and Flayer of the Hatebound to make Rakdos' cost-reduction matter. The original list, like many brewers cook up in first draft, wasn't idea.
"It was pretty bad. Partly because it had 20 lands and partly because there were some bad cards," he said.
But Woods kept tuning the deck deck, gradually moving away from both Rakdos and a dedicated Reanimation theme. Slowly he cut his giant creatures in favor of value creatures, harkening back to another Reanimator spell that didn't primarily target giant monsters.
"Unburial Rites became Makeshift Mannequin essentially, which is something Unburial Rites has never done before," he said.
See the resemblance?
Makeshift Mannequin benefit from being around with Evoke creatures such as Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw, meaning every copy of the four-mana instant was often a two or even three for one. Woods began to envision Unburial Rites as its successor, albeit with Flashback.
"Mulldrifter" is often used to describe creatures with built in card advantage, much as Thragtusk is. "Baneslayer" often refers to intrinsically powerful creatures with no such advantage. Woods' deck is full of "Mulldrifters" with only a few "Baneslayers."
"In one game I had a Thragtusk and Restoration Angle and he cast Supreme Verdict. I just untapped and cast and flashed back Unburial Rites and brought back Thragtusk and Restoration Angel all in one turn," Woods said.
Cards like Armada Wurm, Bonfire of the Damned and Farseek were all late additions as he tuned the deck, looking for ways to both break through and stabilize his mana. Armada Wurm replaced Angel of Serenity, easing the White burden, and Farseek made it so that, if he ever cast it, Woods' mana would be essentially perfect, he said.
The better mana also enabled him to play a pair of Kessig Wolf Runs which, he pointed out, had been absurd. In his Round 10 match against Christian Calcano, the Wolf Runs were his best way to get past Calcano's chump blockers and take out Jace, Architect of Thought and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage.
But the secret All-Star in that matchup and against control decks have been the Triumph of Ferocities in the sideboard. Against Calcano, for example, he drew probably upwards of 10 extra cards off the enchantment. But even that tech almost wasn't meant to be, as they only made the list last minute.
"Past me had been smart enough to pack a bunch of cards I might play. While I was looking for two more cards for my sideboard I saw these two Triumphs and knew I wanted something against control," he said, adding "Thank you Past Conley."
Woods said he chose the unconventional deck because he wanted to play something he had experience with. And while he felt he could have played the Bant list his Channelfireball teammates were on, he wanted something he knew better and opted to play the deck he had upwards of 25 matches with.
His sideboard is built with versatility in mind, as every card fills several functions. The posterboy for that concept is Golgari Charm, which Woods pointed out is very good against a lot of control decks, especially Esper, as all three modes are relevant. Against Hoof Reanimator decks, the -1/-1 mode can even serve as a sort of one-sided Supreme Verdict.
And while Woods is happy with the way the deck has performed this weekend, he said the deck can and should be tuned for other tournaments going forward.
"You can take out 10 cards and add 10 and it will still be the same Jund-ish value deck with a bunch of 2-for-1s," he said. "You can change a bunch of cards and people can continue to play it."
4-Color Value Rites
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012
Round 11 Feature Match - Owen Turtenwald vs. Josh Utter-Leyton
by Marc Calderaro
This was a marquee matchup of the weekend between two of the biggest names in the game. Owen Turtenwald came in sporting a slightly updated version of the Bant Control deck used by Reid Duke to Top 8 last week in Grand Prix Charleston. On the other side of the table was another Team Channelfireball staple Josh Utter-Leyton. Utter-Leyton came equipped with one of the two big aggressive decks of the format, GW Humans.
Turtenwald used a Farseek to fetch out a Hallowed Fountain, giving him access to all colors of mana that he would need. It was fortunate that he did when he did, because Utter-Leyton made a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, on his second turn, a play that would have left Turtenwald unable to ramp for another turn. Thalia did make the Think Twice that Turtenwald cast on his next turn more expensive, but Turtenwald's deck is built around the ability to hit all of his land drops, and Think Twice is an essential part of that.
Utter-Leyton turned up the heat on his next turn, pairing his Thalia with a Silverblade Paladin and attacking for four. Turtenwald continued to build his mana base with a Farseek, but he was facing a massive attack on the following turn. Utter-Leyton swung with both of his creatures and passed the turn to Turtenwald, sitting low at 8 life, one turn from death. He managed to stave off defeat for one more turn with an Elixir of Immortality, but it ended up not being enough. Utter-Leyton made a Knight token with Selesnya Charm at the end of Turtenwald's turn, giving him one more attacker. When he untapped and played a Gavony Township, which he could activate to give his team the requisite three power to negate the Elixir, Turtenwald conceded. Thalia had done just enough to prevent him from casting more than one spell a turn and pulling away, while the Silverblade Paladin provided the punch required to take advantage of the forced stumble.
Owen Turtenwald 0 - Josh Utter-Leyton 1
Turtenwald was on the play in the second game, but it was Utter-Leyton who got on the board first. His Champion of the Parish snuck in on turn one and was quickly enhanced by a Mayor of Avabruck. Turtenwald had an Augur of Bolas, but the combination of the passive ability of the Mayor and the counter he provided to the Champion made it impossible for Turtenwald to profitably block.
Attack with Thalia and Champion. Turtenwald lined all of his creatures up in front of Thalia and used a Faith's Shield to keep Thalia alive. Turtenwald's Healer ended up in the graveyard, and he looked to be in quite a bad spot. He wasn't drawing lands, having only reached four lands by virtue of having a Farseek. He was holding a number of cards, but the Thalia on the other side of the table was causing him some serious problems. He was forced to chump block with one of his Augurs and then pass his next turn.
This allowed the Mayor to flip and become the Howlpack Alpha. While this would certainly allow him to continue to grow his army, it also shrunk his Thalia back to a 2/1 and his Champion back to a 3/3. With Turtenwald representing Restoration Angel, Utter-Leyton chose to be cautious and not attack. He simply passed his turn and made himself a Wolf token. During his end step, Turtenwald revealed that Utter-Leyton had been correct to play around Restoration Angel, casting an Angel to reset his Augur. When the Augur returned, it found him a Sphinx's Revelation, which was currently unimpressive. Once again, Turtenwald simply untapped his lands and passed the turn. He didn't have a fifth land and looked like he might be in trouble. Utter-Leyton untapped, added a Rancor to his Wolf token to make it a 5/3 trampler, and sent it in. Turtenwald had an Azorius Charm to kill the token, but Utter-Leyton would simply be able to replace it during his end step and re-enchant it on the following turn.
Once again, Turtenwald untapped, played a land, and passed the turn. He had finally clawed his way up to six lands, and things were starting to look a little better for him. Even with things looking up, he was still in a bit of a pickle. Utter-Leyton recast his Rancor on Thalia and attacked with his team. Turtenwald stuck his Augur in front of the Howlpack Alpha and cast Sphinx's Revelation for three. This left him with a terrifyingly low four life. Fortunately, he had found what he was looking for, untapping and playing Supreme Verdict to clear the board. After clearing Thalia away, Turtenwald was free to tap out to play Farseek and Elixir of Immortality.
This whole time, Utter-Leyton had been putting the screws to Turtenwald with only three lands in play. He couldn't activate the Gavony Township he had in play, which would have ended the game turns ago. He finally found his fourth land, using it to cast Nevermore on Sphinx's Revelation and an Avacyn's Pilgrim. Turtenwald responded by digging himself out of his hole with a Thragtusk and another Farseek. As great as the extra mana was, it was significantly less useful without access to Revelation.
Utter-Leyton played a Precinct Captain and put a Rancor on it, giving him a creature that was more than able to fight with the Thragtusk. Not wasting any time, Turtenwald blew a Supreme Verdict to clear the board. With the Thragtusk's death, Turtenwald needed a Beast token.
"Well Ochoa's a beast," Utter-Leyton joked as he passed a David Ochoa token over to Turtenwald.
Utter-Leyton had a monstrous number of cards in hand as a result of his manascrew, much more impressive than the two from Turtenwald. He pored through them for a minute before dropping a Sublime Archangel with a Rancor into play. Turtenwald untapped, attacked with the beastly Ochoa, and replaced the Thragtusk that he had killed himself. Back up to 14, he seemed much safer than he had turns earlier.
Utter-Leyton began to retake control of the game with his mass of cards, playing a Silverblade Paladin and pairing it with a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, which he also outfitted with a Rancor. When Utter-Leyton attacked with his Thalia, Turtenwald stuck both his Beast and the Thragtusk in front of it, losing both in the process, but killing the Thalia. His next attack came after pairing the Paladin with a new Sublime Archangel and giving it two Rancors. The Paladin attacked for 16 double-striking trample damage, forcing Turtenwald to sacrifice his Elixir to stay alive. From a position of relative power, he had been reduced to no board and 4 life.
Fortunately for Turtenwald, his savior appeared, Supreme Verdict clearing the board away. After the dust cleared, Turtenwald added a Thragtusk to his team, gaining a huge chunk of life and a fairly large body. Turtenwald was on one card, a useless Sphinx's Revelation, while Utter-Leyton was on three. The edge on the board currently went to Turtenwald, who sat pretty with a Thragtusk in play to dust from Utter-Leyton. Utter-Leyton played an Avacyn's Pilgrim on his turn, passing with no other additions to his board and a boatload of mana available. Turtenwald thought for a minute before simply attacking with Thragtusk and passing the turn.
Utter-Leyton wasn't out of gas, whatever his previous turn might have displayed. He was simply playing around the sorcery-speed removal in Turtenwald's deck. He added a Silverblade Paladin and a pair of Rancors to his Pilgrim, turning it into a massive trampling double-striker. When he attacked with it, Turtenwald used Restoration Angel to flicker his Thragtusk, both of which jumped in front of the Pilgrim. The Pilgrim killed them both, leaving Turtenwald with two 3/3 Beasts in play after combat. Utter-Leyton regained his lead in life, taking a 12-9 advantage over Turtenwald. After combat, Utter-Leyton used his remaining mana to replay one of the Rancors on his Paladin.
Turtenwald's draw was a massive one. Detention Sphere allowed him to remove the Nevermore, turning on the Sphinx's Revelation that was the lone remaining card in his hand. He immediately cast the Revelation, filling his hand back up to seven cards. Utter-Leyton's next attack was a little larger than Turtenwald had expected to be, as he added the second Rancor and a Sublime Archangel to his side. The newly paired Paladin attacked for a whopping sixteen damage, forcing Turtenwald to block with both of his Beasts to stay alive. Despite facing an unreasonably large set of attackers, Turtenwald simply passed his next turn, leaving Utter-Leyton to walk into his tricks.
Utter-Leyton sent his team. Once attackers were declared, Turtenwald used an Azorius Charm to return the Archangel to the top of the deck. When Turtenwald cast Sphinx's Revelation for ten to go to 16, Utter-Leyton used his remaining lands to activate the Gavony Township. Without a paired creature, the Paladin lost its double strike, becoming a mere 7/3 trampler that dropped Turtenwald to 9.
In a relative flurry of activity, Turtenwald began to put the game away. After starting so slim on lands, Turtenwald had enough in play now to cast Supreme Verdict, two copies of Thragtusk, and a Farseek all in one turn. Utter-Leyton was finally gassed, having spent the threats that his early mana screw had built up in his hand. He could simply draw and replay the Sublime Archangel, give it a trio of Rancors, and pass the turn. When Turtenwald cast a Detention Sphere to lock away the Archangel, Utter-Leyton conceded an incredibly intricate game.
Owen Turtenwald 1 - Josh Utter-Leyton 1
Utter-Leyton's first contribution to the board was a Precinct Captain on the second turn, which looked like it would be able to attack unopposed. Turtenwald had simply passed on his second turn, giving Utter-Leyton an open alley. Before attacking, Utter-Leyton played a Champion of the Parish, which had shown up late to the party, as well as a Mayor of Avabruck. When he attacked with his Captain, however, Turtenwald kept things under control with an Azorius Charm. After untapping, Turtenwald used a Detention Sphere to lock away the Mayor of Avabruck.
Utter-Leyton kept on the aggressive, using a Rancor to enhance his Champion of the Parish, replayed the Precinct Captain to gain a counter, and attacked for 5. Turtenwald had no lands on his turn, simply passing the turn with three lands and an uncastable Supreme Verdict in his hand. Utter-Leyton attacked with his team on the next turn, forcing Turtenwald to once again use Azorius Charm to return a Rancored attacker, dropping to three in the process.
From the top of his deck, Turtenwald finally found the fourth land he needed to cast the Supreme Verdict in his hand, clearing the board. Utter-Leyton rebuilt with a Champion of the Parish, Avacyn's Pilgrim, and a Rancor for the Pilgrim. Another miracle card came from the top of Turtenwald's deck, this time a literal one, as Terminus cleared the board for a mere one mana. This allowed him to follow up with a Centaur Healer to go back up to 6. Utter-Leyton made a Mayor of Avabruck and gave it a Rancor. Not wasting time, Turtenwald used a Restoration Angel oh his turn to return the Healer and go to 9.
Utter-Leyton needed to rebuild his team, and he decided that the best way to do that and affect the board was to pass this turn and flip his Mayor. Turtenwald felt that he had finally stabilized enough to go on the offensive. He sent his whole team into attack, dropping Utter-Leyton to 11 in one swing. With four mana left available, he passed the turn. Utter-Leyton continued to play around Restoration, as he had all weekend, simply playing a Champion of the Parish and making a Wolf token. At the end of his turn, Turtenwald revealed that Utter-Leyton's decision was once again beneficial, as he used a Restoration Angel to once again flicker his Healer, driving his life total up to 12.
Still on only four lands, Turtenwald could have cast the Farseek in his hand but instead chose to cast Sphinx's Revelation for one. He attacked with his Angels, dropping Utter-Leyton to 5. Things looked like they would be over soon, and Turtenwald held the advantage.
Utter-Leyton played a Sublime Archangel, allowing his Howlpack Alpha to attack for 9, dropping Turtenwald back down to 7. It also gave him an important blocker against the pair of Angels Turtenwald controlled. Turtenwald attacked with both fliers, dropping Utter-Leyton to 2. Unable to deal with Utter-Leyton's team as it stood, Turtenwald cast Supreme Verdict, clearing the board. Utter-Leyton refilled his side fairly quickly, playing Precinct Captain with a Rancor and a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Turtenwald had a Thragtusk for his side, going back up to 12.
Silverblade Paladin, one of Utter-Leyton's Top 5 cards in Standard, came down, pairing with the Rancored Captain. He attacked with the double-striker, which Turtenwald chose not to block. He dropped to 4, and Utter-Leyton gained two Soldiers. Turtenwald tried to help himself with another Thragtusk, puttting himself back up to 9, but things still didn't look good for him. Even though he was drawing off the top of his deck, Utter-Leyton had such a dominating board position. After drawing, Utter-Leyton began to do some serious math, knowing that a single mistake could give Turtenwald the opening he needed to take the match. After much thought, he turned his whole team sideways, and Turtenwald conceded an incredibly hard-fought match.
Owen Turtenwald 1 - Josh Utter-Leyton 2
Round 12 Feature Match - Gerry Thompson vs. Reid Duke
by Blake Rasmussen
Reid Duke and Gerry Thompson are easily two of the best deck tweakers in the game. They both have the uncanny ability to take a deck that was good last week and change a few cards, or even a lot of cards, to tune it for the next week's expected metagame.
In this case, Thompson has updated UW Flash to include Red while Duke has updated his Bant Control deck, both lists players took to Top 8 berths in Charlotte last week. And with both players at 9-2, the winner here would have a very realistic shot of parlaying that fine tuning into a Top 8.
Augur of Bolas started things off for Thompson while Duke found a blue source with Farseek. Both players were playing at a crisp pace, as the matchup can tend to go long otherwise. With both decks operating at instant speed, the pair passed back and forth for several turns until Thompson Resolved a Restoration Angel, blinking his Augur and finding a Think Twice.
More Farseeks and more mana for Duke kept him building his presence, and a Supreme Verdict cleared out Thompson's attackers before Thompson cast Think Twice, twice.
Alchemist's Refuge started shining here, as Duke was able to attempt an end of turn Tamiyo, only to be hit by Dissipate. Going long, that little land was likely to cause problems for Thompson.
And when Duke resolved Sphinx's Revelation for six on his main phase, it certainly looked like the game was going to go long. The Revelation had been the last card in Duke's hand, but he was clearly back in the match thanks to the nearly consensus best card in Standard.
Gerry Thompson had publicly bemoaned his deck as "not what I want to be doing," but at 9-2 it had served him admirably so far.
Of course, Duke tapping out just gave Thompson the ability to resolve his own Sphinx's Revelation. Buckle in ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be a long one.
With Thompson tapped out, Duke was free to resolve a range of spells on his turn. He started with Amass the Components and followed with Jace, Architect of Thought and a Farseek. It was a strong turn that positioned him well against Thompson's deck.
Augur of Bolas found another Sphinx's Revelation for the Flash player, and the players started the posturing and passing that comes with control-on-control matchups.
Two Pillar of Flames and a Snapcaster Mage took out Jace, but Duke had a ton of mana and an Alchemist's Refuge and was poised to use it.
When Duke started milling Thompson with Nephalia Drownyard, Thompson scooped up his cards to save time in what looked like an inevitable win for Bant at this point.
Duke 1 – Thompson 0
A series of Thought Scour into Snapcaster Mage started the match for Thompson, but Duke opted to Dissipate the Snapcaster Mage to keep the table under control.
A Restoration Angel, however, resolved, and started attacking for three a turn...until Duke matched with his own Angel looking to slow things down.
And slow down they did, successively passing back and forth while developing their mana bases and doing little else. Thompson tried a test attack at one point to see if Duke would block—which he did—but otherwise the players merely crafted their hands.
The first big move was an attempt at Sphinx's Revelation from Thompson while Duke was tapped low. However, low was not the same as tapped out, and Negate dealt with the Mythic instant.
Then Duke found Alchemist's Refuge and Cavern of Souls (set to Beast), and the tone and pace of the game shifted to almost exclusively happening during end steps..
Instant speed Farseek and Augur of Bolas turned up more land and a Dispel, respectively, for Duke. Thompson, on Duke's end step, cast a succession of draw spells that ended in an attempted Restoration Angel, only to lose it all to an instant-speed Supreme Verdict.
Then Thompson cast Curse of Echoes.
I'll let that sink in for a moment.
Thompson cast Curse of Echoes.
The ramifications of that resolving are so mind bending that...well, I can barely put it into words. Just consider Sphinx's Revelation.
Duke saw the same possible perils ahead and fought back with Dissipate, to which Thompson had Negate. Duke, still one step ahead, also had his own Negate. And with that, the counter deck was out-countered. (Oversimplification, but stick with me.)
So the Curse neglected to resolve and a window was suddenly open for Duke to draw six off of Sphinx's Revelation.
But Thompson wasn't done. Not by a long shot. Augur of Bolas found Rewind and a Spirit token, thanks to Moorland Haunt, started pecking away. Thompson attempted a Sphinx's Revelation backed by Rewind, but Dispel and Dissipate dismissed that threat.
Reid Duke had all the answers in Round 12.
Duke's engine kept going. More card draw, more land and more options left Thompson with fewer and fewer avenues himself. A flashed in Thragtusk just made things even worse, even as Clone copied Thragtusk.
Duke kept piling it on with a Restoration Angel and Amass the Components, finding his Nephalia Drownyard.
But Thompson was doing some milling of his own, targeting Duke with Thought Scour. Duke's library was looking thin, but when he flashed in Sigarda, Host of Herons, he at least had a blocker for Thompson's host of Spirits.
Restoration Angel allowed Thompson to blink out Clone and copy Sigarda, but a flashed in Supreme Verdict ended the threat and gave Duke enough time to mill Thompson out entirely.
Duke 2 – Thompson 0
Sunday, 1:05 p.m. - Deck tech with Reid Duke: Bant Control
by Blake Rasmussen
"I do feel that it's one of the best decks in the format," Reid Duke said as he laid his Bant deck out on the table in front of us.
It was hard to argue with that. Duke is fresh off one Grand Prix Top 8 and seemingly on his way to yet another, now at 10-2 after 12 rounds. He tweaks, poked, prodded and updated last week's list, and has been rewarded for staying with the same deck. "I'm not a slave to it, but I do like to stick to it," Duke said. "Having something that I'm comfortable with is very important."
Duke's list is different than a lot of other Bant lists out there right now, placing so much of an emphasis on Sphinx's Revelation that he's not only playing the full four copies, but also supporting that strategy with Elixir of Immortality to reshuffle over and over and over again.
The point, he said, is to eventually get to a point where he's seeing every card in his deck, reshuffling and redrawing as needed. He has the sort of inevitability rarely seen in modern Magic, harkening back to the days of Gaea's Blessing. In fact, Elixir is something of a Blessing proxy, while Nephalia Drownyard does a lot of the work on the other end.
Duke, unlike the Channelfireball Bant list, has also almost entirely scrapped creatures from his deck, relying on just four Thragtusks, two Augur of Bolas and a Restoration Angel in the main with a few Centaur Healers and another Angel coming in after board.
It actually makes a huge difference in the mirror, where attacking is rarely an avenue to victory. Nephalia Drownyard makes it virtually impossible for non-Drownyard Bant decks to win Game 1, to the point that Tom Martel said yesterday that he would consider conceding to Duke's list if they so much as got to five mana. It's that lopsided.
Duke, meanwhile, isn't packing much in his sideboard targeted at the mirror, figuring that his maindeck Drownyard almost guarantees Game 1, and there's almost no guarantee you'll even finish Games 2 and 3. So why even try?
Still, since making Top 8 last week, Duke has made a few adjustments. He cut a lot of hate for the UW Flash matchup—expecting a downturn in the deck's popularity coupled with Alchemist's Refuge would be enough of an edge this weekend—and added more early plays to compensate for the rise in aggressive strategies.
The Alchemist's Refuge is one of the big winners this week, letting him do things like play Supreme Verdict and Thragtusk at instant speed, giving him huge edges in certain matchups. It's definitely a card to watch for in the coming weeks.
The other interesting change was adding a Jace, Architect of Thought for an Amass the Components. Duke said he was still unsure which was better, so he split the difference to hedge his bets. Amass, he said, also makes his Augur of Bolases hit slightly more often.
He's also playing a pair of Dispel in the sideboard that he said have been key for fighting Sphinx's Revelation. He included them at the insistence of Owen Turtenwald, and has been happy with the flexible way to either counter Sphinx's Revelation or protect his own.
He does admit the deck does have some weaknesses, namely a lack of early plays and a lack of instant-speed spells. Both are pretty difficult things to overcome when playing against Zombies, and his 0-1 record against the undead menace is a symptom of that. He added more Azorius Charms to compensate, but he admits it can still be a tough match.
He also skipped playing Rest in Peace for the Reanimator matchup because it shuts off his Elixir plan. He instead chose to rely on repeatedly wrathing the board with Supreme Verdict, especially in conjunction with Alchemist's Refuge. It's a calculated risk he's aware could possibly hurt him in the rounds to come.
"I would rather just take chances," he said.
So far, so good.
The changes from last week to this week include
Day 1 Undefeated Decks
by Nate Price
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012, Standard
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012, Standard
Grand Prix San Antonio 2012, Standard
Sunday, 3:45 p.m. - Metagame Breakdown
by Nate Price
Coming into this event, the following trends were known:
- BR Zombies and Hoof just won Grand Prix
- Cavern of Souls had made counterspells much worse
- GW Aggro and BR Zombies should be fairly strong decks
- Many players were abandoning or modifying UW Flash
- Bant Control was the new control deck of choice
- Jund had put a large number of players in the Top 16 in Bochum
With this in mind, the field was expected to be a reasonable mix of BR Zombies, GW Aggro, Bant Control, Jund, and Hoof. We expected very little UW Flash to speak of, as it was the deck that was hurt the most by the rise of Cavern of Souls. When we finally had the time to compile the Day 1 data this is the spread we saw:
Ultimately, this was a reasonably close approximation of expectations. BR Zombies was far and away the most popular deck, followed by GW (if you combine the Humans and non-Humans version). Bant Control was the best performing control deck, again as expected. What I really found surprising was the large number of players who clung to UW Flash or a derivative and did well. Cavern of Souls was supposed to sound the death knell for the deck, yet it not only survived, it thrived.
Clearly the deck to beat right now is BR Zombies, as it has been tearing up the event since the beginning of the weekend. GW has shown impressive game against it, but it appears that the Bant Control decks might have overestimated their ability to deal with the new, over-the-top version of Zombies. We'll see how everything distills as we finish these last few rounds going into Top 8.
Round 14 Feature Match - Tyler Lytle vs. Conley Woods
by Blake Rasmussen
Tyler Lytle was riding high with his relatively stock Black Red zombie deck. At 13-0, he was the last remaining undefeated player. And though he could safely draw or concede to this round, he was aiming for the top seed—and thus the right to play first throughout the Top 8—and elected to keep bashing.
His opponent this round, Conley Woods, was playing anything but a stock list. His 4-color Value Rites deck was the surprise of the tournament, and after 13 rounds Woods found himself in second place at 11-1-1. Still, his margin for error was slim this late in the game, and he could really only afford one loss between now and the final 8.
No one drop for Lytle on the play, but a Knight of Infamy started the aggression on turn two. Or at least tried to. Ultimate Price killed it before dealing any damage, and Lytle actually had no follow up until turn four.
But it was a good one. Falkenrath Aristocrat hit for four before dying to Mizzium Mortars. Lytle's start was uncharacteristically slow, though a Hellrider on his next turn gave him plenty of gas to keep going.
Woods hit five mana and resolved Thragtusk, but Lytle did him one better. Thundermaw Hellkite dropped Woods to 11, which became 13 the next turn thanks to Huntmaster of the Fells.
However, a second Hellkite made the math academic as Lytle ran right over Woods for the win.
Lytle 1 – Woods 0
Woods was first to make a move, starting on a second turn Farseek that jumped him right up to four mana. Meanwhile, Lytle once again had the second turn Knight of Infamy. A second one even let him attack for four through Woods' Loxodon Smiter.
The fast Black Red beats have pushed Lytle to 13-0, but staying undefeated would prove challenging.
What they didn't do was play well with Sever the Bloodline, which Woods used to wipe Lytle's team clean out of the game.
"That was good," Lytle said, following up with a Geralf's Messenger.
Woods cast another Loxodon Smiter to put up a wall against the Messenger, holding Ultimate Price mana up should Lytle have either Hellrider or Thundermaw Hellkite again. Instead, all he had was an attack that let him use Pillar of Flames to kill Loxodon Smiter.
Oblivion Ring removed the Geralf's Messenger, all while letting him keep up Ultimate Price mana.
When Lytle meekly followed up with Diregraf Ghoul, it looked like Woods might actually be on the verge of winning this one. Huntmaster of the Fells died, but when Woods used Kessig Wolf Run to give trample to Loxodon Smiter the next turn, Lytle conceded the game.
Lytle 1 – Woods 1
There was some talk between games of the standings math that might let Lytle concede the match to Woods to let him lock in Top 8, but ultimately Lytle chose to play on to make absolutely sure he played first all the way to a potential finals berth.
For the first time in the match, Lytle and his two-color Zombie deck was forced to take a mulligan while Woods—he of the four color midrange deck—confidently kept his seven.
Lytle's six looked like it gave him indigestion, grimacing as he fanned it out but ultimately kept.
Not to jinx anything, but Woods had his draw and loss in the same Round as GP Orlando. This coverage reporter happened to also be there. Woods won that won, also with a deck no one else had.
Just one land and a Diregraf Ghoul were all Lytle could muster on his first two turns, revealing why he was so reluctant to keep. The pair of Gravecrawers he played after that helped, but they were all stonewalled by Loxodon Smiter.
When Lytle attacked the next turn, he didn't end up getting in any damage as Golgari Charm killed the Gravecrawlers and let the Smiter block.
Finally drawing lands, Lytle played Knight of Infamy and Geralf's Messenger. So things were good, right?
Not so much. Woods hit five lands and played two successive Thragtusks followed by Restoration Angel to climb to nearly 30 life. It didn't take much after that for Lytle to accept his first loss of the tournament.
The consolation, of course, was that Lytle was still a virtual lock for the Top 8, as, now, was Woods.
Woods 2 – Lytle 1
Sunday, 3:50 p.m. - Deck tech with Tyler Lytle: BR Zombies
by Blake Rasmussen
It's incredible how much the little things count when you're adjusting an already streamlined aggro deck such as Zombies that doesn't have a ton of room to maneuver.
At first glance, Tyler Lytle's Black Red Zombies deck doesn't look much different from the list that won Grand Prix Charlotte last weekend. Zombies, Hellriders, Dragons, etc., etc. Move on, right?
Do that and you're missing the subtleties that helped Lytle come one Conley Woods away from running the table.
Recognizing that the format would speed up slightly due to Zombie's win, Lytle knew he needed to go a little bit lower to the ground. Cutting Thundermaw Hellkites and Hellriders for one-drops wasn't really an option—because, you know, Thragtusk—but playing with the spell base was.
So out went the "big" spells in Sign in Blood and Brimstone Volley and in came Pillar of Flames.
"Pillars," Lytle explained, "are much better against Hoof and other Zombies decks."
While Hoof hasn't really been much of a force this weekend, Zombies certainly has been out in droves. In fact, Lytle had to step over at least one 74 card mirror on the weekend to stay undefeated so long.
And while he ultimately stuck to some of the same cards as the Grand Prix winning deck (never a bad place to be), it wasn't without some thought. He considered Ultimate Price over Victim of Night, but wanted to be able to kill Loxodon Smiter.
Likewise, he considered shaving a Thundermaw Hellkite for a fourth Hellrider—because, as he said, "Hellrider is awesome"—but ultimately deferred to the default list. Interestingly, though, he wishes he had gone up to four Hellriders.
Were he to play the deck again, Lytle said he would make the Hellkite/Hellrider swap, plus remove the Cremates from the sideboard for another Appetite for Brains and a final slot he's not sure of. He said he prefers to be proactive with his aggressive decks, and Cremate was anything but.
Lytle also called out the Vampire Nighthawks as key to his success, pointing to how good they are against GW aggro and BR Zombies, two of the three most popular decks at GP San Antonio.
Despite his success, Lytle is a bit worried about his matches against lifegain decks such as Bant. He learned that lesson the hard way against Woods, who cast multiple Thragtusks and Huntmaster of the Fells to stymie any and all aggression out of the Zombie deck.
And now that he's locked into the Top 8, it's likely he'll have to scratch and claw his way over a few of those decks. Whether his deck has the staying power to climb through a Top 8 of Thragtusks, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Centaur Healers, we'll find out shortly.
Round 15 Feature Match - Matthew Thurber vs. David Gomez
by Nate Price
With one round to go, things had gotten quite tight atop the standings. With six players at 36 or more points, and the remainder at 34 or below, there were six players who had effectively locked up their Top 8 berth. One of those players fighting for the last two spots was David Gomez, who had taken his GW Aggro deck and run the table on Day 1, finishing a perfect 9-0. His opponent this round, Matt Thurber, was playing the only other deck archetype to go perfect on Day 1, BR Zombies. This had been the marquee aggressive matchup all weekend long, and it was sure to end in a bang. The winner stood a good shot of getting an invitation to the Top 8. The loser got to watch from the sidelines.
Gomez won the die roll and chose to go first.
Thurber was first on the board, playing a Diregraf Ghoul on his first turn. When he untapped and attacked into Gomez's two untapped lands, he was surprised by an instant Knight from a Selesnya Charm, which traded with the Ghoul. He played his second land and replaced the Ghoul with a Bloodthrone Vampire. Gomez built his mana base with an Arbor Elf and Avacyn's Pilgrim, but he didn't have any aggression on the board. When Thurber made a Hellrider and attacked, he gained the first upper hand of the match.
Gomez did nothing but play a land and pass his turn. He had plenty of mana up to cast a Restoration Angel or Wolfir Avenger, but Thurber paid it no heed. He simply played Geralf's Messenger and attacked with his two creatures. Gomez flashed in an Avenger, blocking the Hellrider with the Wolfir and the Vampire with the Arbor Elf. To keep his Vampire alive, Thurber used his Vampire to sacrifice the Undying Messenger. After the attack, Gomez was down to 10.
Thurber couldn't get through the regenerating side of beef Gomez had under his control, so he decided to go over the top. Literally. His Falkenrath Aristocrat sent in the air for four damage, dropping Gomez to 6. When he played a Hellrider on the next turn, representing lethal damage, Gomez conceded.
Matthew Thurber 1 - David Gomez 0
"That deck is so sweet," Gomez laughed as they shuffled up for the second game.
"Yeah, I don't even have to do anything. The deck just plays itself. That's why I play Zombies: I don't need brains.," Thurber joked. "I saw the list that won Charleston, and the cards were just so sweet. I knew I wanted to play that deck."
Two of Gomez's losses on the weekend had come at the hands of the Zombie horde, and he was one game away from losing his third. Gomez started off with a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, more effective as a 2/1 first-striker than a delaying tactic. Surprisingly, Thurber had nothing on turns one or two. His first contribution to the board was a Geralf's Messenger on turn three. When he added a Loxodon Smiter on his next turn, he took a massive advantage on the board.
Thurber worked on building his horde, adding a Diregraf Ghoul and a Gravecrawler to his team. As much work as he put into his team, Gomez stayed one step ahead. A second Smiter gave Gomez a dominating board presence, allowing him to attack in for massive amounts while leaving a very resilient blocker behind. Thurber got rid of the second Smiter after it blocked a Gravecrawler, but Gomez played a third copy. Thurber found himself needing to stave off Gomez's massive creatures, using Diregraf Ghoul to chump block the Thalia. He was finally able to give Gomez a reason to pause when he made a Falkenrath Aristocrat.
Gomez sent his team. Messenger stood in front of one Smiter while the Aristocrat took the other. Before damage, Thurber used the Aristocrat to sacrifice the Messenger, giving the Vampire indestructibility and saving himself a boatload of damage. He dropped to 6, and Gomez dropped to 11. After combat, Gomez added an Avacyn's Pilgrim to his team and passed the turn.
On his turn, Thurber swung for the fences. A Mark of Mutiny stole Gomez's Loxodon Smiter. With his newest recruit, Thurber sent his entire team. Gomez flashed in a Wolfir Avenger to block the Smiter, taking the rest of the damage down to 3. After combat, Thurber used the Aristocrat to sacrifice the Smiter before it could defect once again, leaving Gomez with virtually nothing in play.
With Thurber tapped out, Gomez had his opportunity. From a position of virtually nothing, he dropped a Wolfir Silverheart into play, enhancing his Thalia. With all of Thurber's permanents tapped, the Thalia sent over for the final six points of damage, stealing a game that had appeared to be in Thurber's pocket. This one was going to three.
Matther Thurber 1 - David Gomez 1
With everything on the line, Gomez took care to properly select the correct opening hand. He threw his first one back, before thinking a while about the second six. After mulling over it for as long as he was legally allowed to, he finally decided he would rather take his chances with five. It has been said that the drop from six to five is where the steepest drop in ability to win occurs. If so, this did not bode well for Gomez.
Things appeared even worse for Gomez when Thurber started with a quick pair of Diregraf Ghouls. His Arbor Elf was removed with a Searing Spear as well, making his life utterly miserable. He was able to get a Thalia into play on turn four, but, by then, Thurber was able to get a Falkenrath Aristocrat into play. A second soon followed, and Gomez conceded. After starting 9-0 on Day 1, he had run into a string of losses, finishing just outside the Top 8.
"It's ben like this all day," he sighed as he shook Thurber's hand.
"Sorry it had to end like this," Thurber apologized.
Matthew Thurber 2 - David Gomez 1
Sunday, 5:50 p.m. - Deck Tech - GW Humans with Ben Rasmussen
by Nate Price
One of the preeminent aggressive decks of the current Standard format is GW. There are two versions of the deck, one running a heavy Human component, and the other running more expensive creatures and less of a tribal theme. While the non-Humans deck seemed the most successful on Day 1, the Humans version was having a much better time of things on Day 2.
Going into Round 14, Ben Rasmussen and Josh Utter-Leyton, both playing the Humans deck, met in the Feature Match area, looking for a chance to win their way into Top 8. When the dust settled, Rasmussen had taken down the Utter-Leyton Raid Boss on the backs of his Riders of Gavony.
Rasmussen's decision to run GW Humans was one born out of necessity, and one that many of us can relate to. Having played very little Standard coming into this event, he wanted to play the deck that gave him the fewest chances to make mistakes.
"Considering how little Standard I had played up to this point, I really wanted to avoid playing blue cards. I wasn't as familiar with the format as I should be, so I didn't want to make incorrect decisions with my control cards. The longer the game goes, the more chances you give yourseld to make mistakes, and the control decks really want to extend the game," Rasmussen explained.
GW Humans has many of the same draws that aggressive decks always do: it's punishing to poor draws, asks questions rather than answers them, and has a number of tools to put the screws to opponents.
"GW Humans can be very explosive, letting you take advantage of any stumbles opponents might make along the way. Against the slower control decks, you have Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, which forces them back a turn. Thalia can really force them off of what they need to do to stay in a game. Gavony Township is another card that's just great against any matchup. For control, it turns any creature you draw into a late game threat. Against aggro, it makes sure that your creatures are just better than theirs."
The other big aggressive deck in the format is BR Zombies. Since Jon Bolding's big performance in Charleston last week, the deck has exploded, putting far more players into Day 2 here in San Antonio than any other deck. The resilience of the Zombies creatures can prove a thorn in the side for the GW Humans deck.
"I played the matchup once," Rasmussen said, "Which explains a lot about why I'm here. My guys match up pretty well against most of theirs, but they do have a few that can be tough to deal with. Geralf's Messenger and Falkenrath Aristocrat are just incredibly hard to deal with."
His experiences this week have him thinking about how to tune the deck against some of the decks he's played against.
"Faith's Shield has been fairly mediocre, honestly. It's on;y really good in combat since there aren't many people playing removal it can stop," Rasmussen said with a slight shake of the head. As he scanned the rest of his deck, a smile crept across his face. "Restoration Angel doesn't really do much in my deck, either. I'd think about finding a card to replace it if I were going to look at this deck for the future."
When I brought up another Faith's Shield-like card, Rootborn Defenses, he laughed.
"I roomed with Kibler, and he has Rootborn Defenses in his sideboard, but he has more tokens. It's only mediocre in my deck. For me, it would only be an anti-Verdic card, and that's not quite good enough."
For players who are a little more unfamiliar with Standard, you should look to Rasmussen's example.
"You should either pick up this or RB Zombies," he admitted. "The decisions you have to make are far more clear cut than control."
Two cards that made an impression on him this weekend were Silverblade Paladin and Rancor.
"Putting Rancor on any creature with first strike lets you fight unfairly against any of your opponent's creatures. Even Thalia, which is weird since she makes it cost more mana. The only real issue I've had with is that I've had to take care to be safe later in the game so I don't lose it to instant-speed removal. And Silverblade Paladin was easily the best card in my deck. It was able to just take over games every time I cast it, especially if I had a Rancor in play."
About the only real thing he can think he might want to add to the deck is a way to punch through and make his deck more resilient.
"Wolfir Avenger is a card that I would like to see fit into this deck. It's got flash, which is great with Mayor of Avabruk and against sorcery-speed removal. It has regeneration, which is great against both the aggressive decks, Thragtusk, and Supreme Verdict. The only real issue I have with it is the mana cost. The double green might be a little tough to pull off as it is."
So for anyone looking for an explosive, aggressive answer to control decks in Standard, look no further than your own species. GW Humans has the first-strike that makes it able to fight against the aggressive decks and survive Thragtusk, the ability to make do with a limited number of threats thanks to Gavony Township, and the ability to simply take over a game with the incredibly powerful Sublime Archangel and Silverblade Paladin. Here's a little something to work with: