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Frank isn’t going to U.S. Regionals, but he knows how he’d prep for it if he were…

Preparing for Regionals

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The letter H!ello and welcome to Online Tech! The talk of the week is the U.S. Regionals that will be held next weekend. We don't have Regionals in the Netherlands, so I'm not going to play. However, the Standard format with Future Sight seemed like a perfect interesting topic this week, appealing not only to the many people who will go to Regionals, but also to the many people who want to play Standard events on Magic Online. Future Sight was released online last week and the release events have commenced. But I dove into the Tournament Practice room to play Standard. I just pretended that I would actually be going to Regionals, and tried to find a good deck with the same passion as if I would actually be going to play next weekend. This article is written from that perspective, and it will report my playtesting, my eventual (imaginary) card and deck choices, and my thought processes. I show how I would be tackling this if I would be truly playing in Regionals next weekend. This article is not so much a Regionals primer. I do not show a general road map of all the viable decks. Rather, I assume a relatively deep knowledge of the format and I will focus mainly on final card choices and how I would build the top tier decks.

Delineating the Decks to Test and the Methodology

Survival_of_the_Fittest I want to strike a good balance between testing as many decks as possible and testing enough games with every deck in order to get some useful results. While I am one of the few Pros who actually prefer playtesting Constructed over drafting, I still couldn't play more than roughly a couple hours every day last week, so within these time constraints I believe that testing 3-4 decks is ideal.

Standard is wide open with so many viable strategies. In order to narrow down the list of decks to try out, I simply took a look at my metagame statistics of the last month, which indicated that Dragonstorm, Gruul, and Dralnu du Louvre had been dominating. These three made up around 40% of the field altogether and they were the consensus best decks before Future Sight rolled around. I don't think that Future Sight changes all that much, so it is reasonable to assume that these decks are still the best, or at least good enough. So testing Dragonstorm, Gruul, and Dralnu du Louvre it was. I know that I am foregoing Project X, Korlash Control, Solar Flare, Izzetron, Angelfire, Glittering Wish Control, Mono Blue Pickles, NarcoBridge, Flores's Go-Slow, Mono Black Rack, Satanic Sligh, and many other favorites. Perhaps one of these decks is actually the stone nuts, but I have to make trade-offs and I can't test everything.

Okay, one exception then: NarcoBridge. This new dredge deck, based around Bridge from Below, has gotten a lot of press lately. It has similarities to the Extended Ichorid deck, since it also uses the dredge mechanic and it can kill very quickly. I wanted to see how good this deck exactly was and tried to come up with a tuned list.

I want to give some advice up front. If you have been playtesting a lot with a certain deck and feel comfortable and experienced with it, do not switch decks at the last minute no matter what. Even if you learn that another deck has slightly better matchup percentages against the field, familiarity with your preferred deck can easily outweigh those. The format is nowadays so wide open with viable strategies that the difference between decks is very low, and the best way to get an edge on the field is by playing a deck much better than anyone else rather than simply picking the consensus best deck. Always select the one that you feel contented with and that fits your personal playing style.

Now, off to testing. I played my matches in the Tournament Practice room on Magic Online. The average level is somewhat lower than in online tournaments, but I don't have an infinite supply of tickets and you can keep on starting new games right away rather than wait for the next round to commence. I always started my testing with stock lists that were based on my deck-o-pedia entries and on Brian David-Marshall's article from last week. Every game I tried different cards and a slightly different build, and based on my game experiences and personal preferences and theorizing I arrived at a final decklist for each archetype, which in my opinion are tuned, and I would be happy to take any of them to Regionals. I only show the final decklist, not the intermediate ones, in order to avoid confusion, but I will give reasons for card choices and tell you what options I considered. I played 10 matches with Dragonstorm, Dralnu du Louvre, and Gruul. I played 20 matches with NarcoBridge, since it's a newer deck where I wanted to try out more cards and builds. I noted down what I played against and kept track of the winning records, so that you get an idea of what decks are being played in the Tournament Practice room as well. Here goes!

Gruul WIN
G/B Dredge WIN
U/W Tron WIN
Red Deck Wins LOSS
U/W Control WIN
U/R Perilous Storm LOSS
U/B Tron WIN
U/B Tron LOSS
Mono-Blue Pickles LOSS
Gruul LOSS

Final record: 5-5

I was disappointed with the 5-5 result, although I ran into lots of bad matchups with countermagic and had some consistency problems against the Gruul variants. Nevertheless, Dragonstorm is still a very potent combo deck, and there is never much variability in the decklists. The only special aspects of my maindeck are extra storage lands (which I really like in every matchup) and the addition of 1 Tarox Bladewing instead of 1 Hunted Dragon. Sometimes you don't draw a Dragonstorm, and then you have to try to win by raw-dogging your Dragons and racing with Remand and Gigadrowse. Tarox Bladewing fits that damage race role much better than Hunted Dragon. The change is only worse if you play a Dragonstorm for four and you have Hunted Dragon and Bogardan Hellkite in hand and your opponent didn't take at least 1 point of damage from his lands and he can somehow beat 19 power worth of flyers on the table along with two more deadly dragons in your hand. That situation seems too unlikely not to run Tarox Bladewing. Don't run two though, because it is legendary.

I tried out various plans versus blue control in my sideboard. Counters are very problematic for Dragonstorm, as Rewind can invalidate Gigadrowse and if your Seething Songs don't resolve it is hard to clinch nine mana. I did not like Riptide Pilferer much, mainly because it is only good on turn two and opponents often have excess Think Twice or Mystical Teachings to toss. Empty the Warrens also didn't impress. You had to spend multiple rituals, and then a single Damnation or Wrath of God would undo all the work. I personally liked a combination of Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, Detritivore, and Pact of Negation best (taking out Lotus Blooms and other stuff), aiming to just go for the Dragonstorm win eventually. I guess this is a matter of personal preference, and if you have been playing Dragonstorm for a while with a different sideboard plan then don't let my tiny sample size and personal opinion dissuade you. I simply like going for the long game, charging up storage lands all the time, tossing out a big Detritivore with a Seething Song, and trying to sneak in a Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir when they tap out for something irrelevant. If that doesn't work, you can still try to go for the end-of-turn Gigadrowse. They float mana and Rewind the real Gigadrowse. Then you Remand your own Gigadrowse so they don't untap and you still have the spell in your hand. On your turn you play a couple Rituals plus Dragonstorm for the kill and have Pact of Negation left for their final counter.

Martyr of Ashes is tech versus dredge and aggro decks. It's better than Pyroclasm versus Gruul because it can take out the 3-toughness creatures, and it also removes Bridge from Below while killing tiny dredge creatures in the process. I didn't come up with the Martyrs myself though; thanks go out to the guy who spotted it in the StarCityGames.com forums and relayed it to me. They tested well so far.

Dralnu du Louvre WIN
U/W Tron WIN
U/G Scryb&Force LOSS
G/B/W Slivers WIN
U/R Perilous Storm LOSS
B/R/u Control WIN
G/B Dredge WIN
Mono-Black The Rack Discard LOSS
Dralnu du Louvre WIN
NarcoBridge WIN

Final record: 7-3

I tried out many cards and builds, and eventually arrived at the above one. I will highlight the most interesting choices. First, the mana base. I don't play Desert (there are not enough 1-toughness creatures around anymore to prey upon) and the overall amount of nonbasic lands I have is pretty low; not even a single Underground River or River of Tears. This is to play around Detritivore and Magus of the Moon. The suspend card—along with his friend Aeon Chronicler—is a major problem for this deck. In Block Constructed, decks play Pull from Eternity. Why can't that card transfer to Standard? The problem lies in the mana base. Block Constructed decks already run 4 Prismatic Lens and 4 Terramorphic Expanse, so by adding just 1 Plains you have 9 white sources (which is fine) and you sacrifice almost nothing. Dralnu du Louvre in Standard does not have that luxury. If you start adding 4 Hallowed Fountain or Terramorphic Expanses to your deck, you significantly weaken your deck against any deck that doesn't play Detritivore (which is probably over 80% of the field). Maybe you win one extra game because you can Pull from Eternity a Detritivore, but I think you lose more because your lands slow you down or cause extra damage. So the only real option remaining was to cut down on the number of nonbasics (while trying to keep a consistent mana base at the same time).

I have yet to run into color problems with my current mana base, so I think it is fine as it is. Note that I also have 2 Tolaria Wests, which fulfill many nice roles. It can tutor for an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth if you need black mana or if you have Tendrils of Corruption in hand after sideboarding versus Gruul. It can go for Urza's Factory if you need a win condition, for a storage land if you are playing the mirror match, for Dimir Aqueduct if you're mana-light, or for a basic land if you are facing nonbasic land hate. After sideboard, it can also transmute for Tormod's Crypt versus dredge (these are technically worse than Leyline of the Void, but Tolaria West's transmute ability tips the scales) or Slaughter Pact versus Magus of the Moon or big creatures.

I tried Delay but didn't like it. It is a nice combo with Teferi, but you don't always have Teferi in hand, and sometimes Delay would force you to time a Teferi at a very awkward moment where you'd rather keep mana open for other stuff. And if you don't have Teferi, you have to deal with the Delayed spell a couple turns later again, while you are trying to win a war of attrition, not a war of tempo. So I'm not a big fan of Delay. I liked the "certainty" and reliability of Cancel and Mana Leak better (though Delay is perhaps better than Mana Leak if you expect a control-heavy metagame).

I also noticed that the deck had a low amount of win conditions. Against certain control decks (B/W Control, for instance) my opponent sometimes had more removal spells than the amount of creatures I had. I wanted an extra creature and considered Aeon Chronicler, Draining Whelk, Tombstalker, Triskelavus, a second Skeletal Vampire, and Magus of the Future. I chose Aeon Chronicler, because of my positive experiences with that card in Block Constructed, but I can't fault you for choosing any other. Furthermore, I have a Grim Harvest in the sideboard (insipired by namcclab_b's list) so that I would not run out of threats quickly.

Mono-Blue Pickles WIN
Solar Flare WIN
Solar Flare WIN
U/G Aggro LOSS
G/B Dredge WIN
Solar Flare LOSS
Dragonstorm LOSS
Solar Flare WIN
W/B Control LOSS
R/B Gargadon WIN

Final record: 6-4

Creatures, burn, smash. If I was an aggro player at heart, Gruul would be my deck of choice. The two- and three-drops could basically be anything, and I don't think it really matters which creatures you put in those slots, as long as you keep the mana curve smooth. The worst thing you can do to this deck is to screw with the mana curve or to add too many expensive cards, like Giant Solifuge, Demonfire, Stonewood Invocation, etcetera. You want to maximize the amount of fast draws and minimize the amount of awkward slow hands. Feel free to adjust the creature slots to your own personal preference, but I would not deviate much from the ten one-drops, eight two-drops, six three-drops curve.

I play the generic Dryad Sophisticates instead of Tin Street Hooligan (good versus decks with Signets), Riftsweeper (good versus Dragonstorm's Lotus Blooms) or Tarmogoyf (good in the mirror match). Mark Herberholz won Pro Tour–Honolulu with Dryad Sophisticates in his deck, and in an unknown field they just feel like the best. Everyone has nonbasic lands, but not everyone has artifacts or suspend cards. Then again, if you expect a certain metagame, feel free to add more specific cards like Tin Street Hooligan.

Tarmogoyf has been showing up a lot in recent decklists, but in my games it was often just bad and unreliable. In the late game it is always fairly big, sure thing. But it has been an 0/1 or 1/2 on turn two or three way too often for my liking. This deck wants to attack for two with its two drops on turns three and four; after that they have done their jobs. You don't care if it grows up to an efficient 4/5 on turns five or six against control or combo, since if you haven't won the game by then, a Tarmogoyf won't help you anymore. The opponent will then take over the game regardless. Gruul isn't made for the late game, and adding cards that are better in the late game than in the early game doesn't work well in my book. However, if you expect to face a lot of other aggro decks, then Tarmogoyf could be okay, since Gruul mirror matches tend to take a fair amount of turns, and often come down to the last fatty standing. If you decide to play them, I would also up the number of Cryoclasms in the sideboard to 4, since that is a +2/+2 boost right away.

The three-drop slot could also be anything. Options include Loaming Shaman (good versus dredge), Sulfur Elemental (good versus white obviously, but also against Wrath of God or Damnation because it has flash), and Magus of the Moon (maindeckable if you expect lots of Urzatron or multicolor control decks). I once again just chose the most generic cards—Call of the Herd and Burning-Tree Shaman—instead of specific cards, since I don't have a read on the metagame, and you can never go wrong with these creatures.

As for the lands, I tried out 1 random Keldon Megaliths and 1 random Horizon Canopy to the deck instead of a Mountain and a Forest, just to see if they could be good. The Keldon Megaliths won me a game, and I would happily keep it as a one-of. Horizon Canopy was often better as a Forest, because Horizon Canopy didn't boost Kird Ape and because you don't want your own Magus of the Moon to cancel out your green mana.

Boros Slivers LOSS
U/G PickleTron WIN
Dralnu du Louvre WIN
Dragonstorm WIN
Mono-Black The Rack Discard WIN
Satanic Sligh WIN
U/R Perilous Storm WIN
Red Deck Wins LOSS
Red Deck Wins LOSS
W/B Aggro WIN
Mono-Black The Rack Discard WIN
U/B Dralnu WIN
Mono Black Aggro LOSS
Dralnu du Louvre WIN
W/B Aggro WIN
G/B Dredge WIN
W/B Control WIN
Project X WIN
NarcoBridge mirror WIN
Glittering Wish Control WIN

Final record: 16-4

This is a clearly awesome record, even though I played against lower ranked players with probably sub-optimal decks, which should skew the results somewhat. I started off with Amar Dattani's list from a U.K. Nationals Qualifier (as featured in BDM's article), tried out lots of other options, and ended up with a slightly different list that plays better, in my opinion. But before I discuss the card choices, let me first show an average draw of the deck. I was surprised to see how consistent the deck could be. It is pretty much guaranteeing a turn-four kill (sometimes turn-five) if played and mulliganned correctly, disregarding opposing disruption.

Turn zero: Mulligan the opening hand because it did not contain two lands, a discard enabler creature, and either a dredge card or another discard enabler creature. Keep the six-card hand because it has lands, a Thought Courier, and a Stinkweed Imp. Don't be afraid to mulligan down to three or four cards; you can net a turn-four kill with a hand consisting of Magus of the Bazaar, Island, and Golgari Grave-Troll.

Turn one: Watery Grave, go.

Turn two: Island, Thought Courier.

Turn three: Activate Thought Courier in the upkeep, discarding Stinkweed Imp. You do this in your upkeep, because now you can dredge the Stinkweed Imp in your draw step. Then you play another Thought Courier and a land.

Turn four: In your upkeep, activate both Thought Couriers. You have found a Golgari Grave-Troll for more efficient dredging by now, and mill one Narcomoeba and one Bridge from Below. Dredge the Troll in your draw step as well. In your main phase, you sacrifice all your creatures to Dread Return a Drowned Rusalka. Bridge from Below nets you three Zombies, which you all sacrifice to Drowned Rusalka one by one in order to dig even further in your deck. After doing this—and milling a couple Narcomoebas and Bridge from Belows in the process—your library will now only consist of nine cards. You should have found all the pieces by now, so sacrifice your Drowned Rusalka and two Narcomoebas to Dread Return a Flame-Kin Zealot (giving you lots of zombie tokens), and attack for the kill with lots of hasty zombie tokens.

On to the discussion of card choices. I would not play Simian Spirit Guide; I play extra lands instead. Speed is nice, but not all-important. I opt for reliability and consistency instead. I would rather get an opening hand with two lands over an opening hand with one land and one Simian Spirit Guide. In the latter case you can run out your Magus of the Bazaar one turn earlier, but in the former case you have enough mana to play a second discard outlet in case your first one gets killed. As for the mana base, I built it on the following considerations. You need lots of blue mana, since usually the only cards you play are blue, and you want to activate Drowned Rusalka multiple times per turn. Sometimes you need green for Life from the Loam or black to hardcast Stinkweed Imp, but six to seven sources of those colors should be sufficient, especially since the deck draws so many cards with the blue looter creatures. Furthermore, you want at least 1 Svogthos, the Restless Tomb in the maindeck to give you the Life from the Loam backup plan. You only go for this against control decks that take out all your looters, though. Lastly, you need to play at least some basics because of Ghost Quarter and Magus of the Moon. I don't play Gemstone Mine, because you don't need color-fixing that badly and you need lands that stick around if you happen to go for the recurring Golgari Grave-Troll end game plan. I also don't like to play 4 Gemstone Caverns because of the legendary status. Furthermore, I run 2 Horizon Canopy, offering a land early on and a free dredge later (it's like a Street Wraith that gives mana first), as well as a Life from the Loam card advantage plan.

Speaking of Street Wraith, I don't like it, because it makes mulligan decisions harder as you have less information. It is nice to get a free dredge, but that's not exiting enough to play a card just for that. I play extra looters instead, which makes the deck much more consistent. Amar Dattani plays 11 looters. I run 14. The deck cannot win without one of them, and I would try to play as many as possible in order to increase the number of good opening hands. What are the best looters? Magus of the Bazaar is absolutely insane. Lore Broker was strictly inferior to Thought Courier, especially in the mirror match, so that switch was made quickly. I tried out a bunch of discard outlets; Glimpse the Unthinkable, Compulsive Research, Greenseeker, and Llanowar Mentor, but I decided that the blue looter creatures were all better, since they tap to dredge (as opposed to the green ones), and because they offer repetitive activations and they can be sacrificed to Dread Return (as opposed to the blue sorceries). Hence, the deck was rounded out with Drowned Rusalka and Bonded Fetch.

Now, you might think that my record was so good because I didn't face any sideboard hate. That is not true. Roughly 50-60% of my opponents had graveyard hate. I faced Tormod's Crypt, Yixlid Jailer, Withered Wretch, and Leyline of the Void. They are beatable, however. Plan A is Krosan Grip against Crypt or Leyline or Darkblast against Yixlid Jailer. Against Tormod's Crypt, your plan B is to ration your threats. Don't dredge through your deck like a madman; instead start to attack with some 1-power flyers and lean back on one Bridge from Below, pose a 5/5 Golgari Grave-Troll, and eventually you will force them to use a Crypt. Then you can dredge your deck and win. This does require lots of experience and careful planning, though. The real problem matchups are decks that burn your discard creatures, run creatures that can be sacrificed at will (like Rusalkas), have a fast damage clock, and run sideboard Tormod's Crypts. I'm looking at Gruul and Satanic Sligh. If all your Bridges will probably get removed, then perhaps your best bet is to try to win by hardcasting big Golgari Grave-Trolls or reanimating Blazing Archons (which are amazing in the mirror as well, by the way), but that is hardly a winning strategy against those decks either.

I am one of the biggest proponents of surprise transformational sideboards, as it turns wrecking sideboard hate into dead irrelevant cards. I considered one where you remove all your graveyard effects for madness cards (as those work nicely with the looters that you'd have to keep), but I still don't think it is good enough, as I don't see myself winning by beating down with Muck Drubbs and Brain Gorgers against any reasonable self-respecting deck. I would rather hope they don't draw their graveyard hate and still have Krosan Grip as backup than a transformational sideboard plan that weakens the overall power of the deck too much. If 100% of the field has graveyard hate, I'd rather just pick another deck. Speaking of boarding, I would always assume your opponent has something and put in Krosan Grip. If he doesn't even happen to have Crypt or Leyline, then you are probably winning anyway, even though you weaken your deck a little with dead cards. But if he does have graveyard hate, you will be extremely happy you put them in. Never sideboard too much with this deck, though, or you hurt the consistency of the combo. The cards I can imagine removing are—in ascending order of importance—1 Dread Return (not against decks with counters), 1 land (Gemstone Caverns if playing first!), 1 Life from the Loam, 2 Bonded Fetch, 1 Drowned Rusalka (not against decks with spot removal), 1 Flame-Kin Zealot (not against decks with Tormod's Crypts, preferably), 1 Narcomoeba (as a true last resort). Boarding any more weakens the combo too much in my opinion.

Conclusion

After having tested 50 matches of Standard, we see that the NarcoBridge deck had the best result, followed by Dralnu du Louvre. I would choose NarcoBridge if I would expect my field to be unprepared for it (and practice the hell out of it in order to learn how to play around Tormod's Crypt). However, the word is out, so everyone should have hate in their sideboards. The graveyard hate is beatable, but it is still pretty hard, and I wouldn't feel comfortable playing the deck in a hostile metagame. I would personally choose Dralnu du Louvre, because it fits my playing style and the deck gave good results. However, if you do not have any experience with Dralnu du Louvre in Standard or U/B/w Teferi Control in Block Constructed then I would never choose it, since it is pretty hard to play correctly. If you are a new or inexperienced player, I would recommend Gruul, because it is a good consistent aggro deck that is easy to play. And to everyone I will reiterate what I stated in the beginning: take whatever deck you feel can play comfortably well on the back of experienced with it; that is the most important consideration. Good luck!

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