GP Birmingham: Before and After

by Simon Nielsen on 18 May 2018, Friday

Simon Nielsen

 

My Top Choices for Standard in Birmingham

As I write this, I am on my way to Birmingham. I haven’t yet fully decided on what to play, but I've narrowed it down to a few. Even though the GP will be over once you read this, and you will have all the hindsight needed to make fun of my final choice, I still believe that sharing these decklists will provide a solid ground for where to go with this format.

The main take-away here is that I am quite high on the cycle of triple-colored 3-drops, and all 3 of my decks feature a playset of one of them. Standard has been lacking quality 3-drops, and it's nice to get an incentive to play manabases of all or mostly basic lands, which vastly improves your consistency. Conveniently, all of them crew Heart of Kiran, a card that has gotten a lot better, partly due to Karn, Scion of Urza, and partly because neither of to the new 2-mana premium removal spells, Cast Down and Seal Away, can touch a Heart of Kiran. In general I think it’s key to make your decks the best they can be with and against Heart of Kiran.

 

Mono-White Vehicles




Now, I assume most of you have seen the White-Black Vehicles list that has been floating around, quickly dubbed “the new best deck" in the format, but I was sceptic. Curving Heart of Kiran into History of Benalia is just not the way to maximize your cards. I did l really like Gideon of the Trials, as it works splendidly both with and against Heart of Kiran. But more importantly, it’s also an answer to stuff like Lyra while still being a threat.

 

Benalish Marshal is a super attractive route to take these white decks. When you curve Toolcraft Exemplar into Heart of Kiran into Benalish Marshal, you leave them at 8 life on turn 3! And Benalish Marshal also makes your Heart of Kiran bigger than the other vehicles. That’s pretty huge.  Not to mention the huge amount of power you dump onto the board on turn 4 when you go Sram’s Expertise into Benalish Marshal.

This deck doesn’t play any removal outside of Gideon of the Trials. Instead it aims to solve problematic permanents by just going for a huge swing turn with Pride of Conquerors. This way, you avoid drawing removal spells that might not line up well. Plus, you get maximum use out of your Benalish Marshal.


I like this approach more than other white lists I’ve seen. For one, it actually has enough cheap artifacts to reliably make Toolcraft Exemplar a 3/2 on turn 2. And it just plays better with and against Heart of Kiran, and rarely has mismatched draws.
You could try to go bigger, by playing 2 Karn, Scion of Urza and 2 History of Benalia over Skymarch Aspirants. You could even eschew the Pride of Conquerors plan, by replacing Servo Exhibition with Walking Ballista and play more lands.

Mono-Green Stompy

 



I like this deck. No. I LOVE this deck. It speaks to my soul. When I first qualified for the World Magic Cup, I did it with my own mono green aggro deck. And now Play Design were kind enough to let us play with Llanowar Elf again. They even gave us Steel Leaf Champion to go with it!
This deck is built to maximize Ghalta, Primal Hunger. I’ve seen more consistent versions with explore creatures, vehicles and Walking Ballista. The problem with these builds is that Mono Green does not get to play any answers. So the only way to reliably beat a big threat like Hazoret, the Fervent or Lyra Dawnbringer is to attack with a 12/12 as early as possible.

 

We can even play Ghalta turn 3! If we lead on Llanowar Elf on turn 1, we can play one of our six 5-power 3-drops on turn 2. Then on turn 3, we play one of our 4-power 2-drops. Resilient Khenra is best, as it lets you attack for a bunch of damage, but Heart of Kiran works too, you just have to crew it and be unable to attack. It is worth it though, if that means you get to drop a 12/12 on turn 3!


I’ve found that the explore creatures are just too puny. We want maximum beef! If Merfolk Branchwalker hits a land, you just have a 2/1, which doesn’t crew Heart, doesn't help Ghalta much and now leaves you vulnerable to Walking Ballista and Goblin Chainwhirler.
I have also tried a black splash for Scrapheap Scrounger and Hour of Glory, but whenever I couldn’t curve out properly because I had a land enter the battlefield tapped it felt like I was giving up too much. It was a also a problem that Scrapheap Scrounger doesn’t block, which often made you fall too much behind in the early game.


After briefly considering Terrain Elemental, I decided to add Greenbelt Rampager. This let me have another impactful play on turn 2 if I didn’t draw Llanowar Elves or Heart of Kiran. Since I only have untapped green sources, I can always play it turn 1.

This deck generally stomps red and white decks, but it is naturally inconsistent and has more trouble postboard, when most aggro decks get to board into planeswalkers, big threats and lots of removal.  I do like that I get to essentially board into this different mono green deck that has also been doing well, with Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and Walking Ballista to punish Chandra, Torch of Defiance which is otherwise very effective against us.


Oh, and I would just hope to dodge all Blue-White Control decks. 

 

Red-Black Vehicles

 

 

I played against this deck on Magic Online and thought it looked quite powerful. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so, since the deck quickly caught on, and now I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be the most played deck at GP Birmingham.

 

Much like the Ramunap Red decks of past, it’s a combination of an aggressive strategy with powerful cards and the ability to cleanly sideboard into a midrange deck that has proven why this deck is so powerful. Heart of Kiran works so well with your planeswalkers and is a great tool to both apply pressure and play defence if needed. Karn, Scion of Urza secretly works well with Walking Ballista as you will frequently get extra lands from Karns +1 ability.


And postboard in match-ups where your aggressive plan might not quite work out, such as Mono Green and Black-Green Constrictor, you get to board out your 1-drops and Scrapheap Scroungers in order to board into removal spells, planeswalkers and dragons which turns you into a controllish midrange deck that lines up very well against their strategy.

 


Appendix: I just won a Grand Prix!


Spoiler alert if you haven’t already watched the coverage.


Now I just boarded the plane home from Birmingham and placed a 1st place trophy in the overhead compartment. When I wrote this article I did not think I would get to write this paragraph, but here we are!


When I arrived at the tournament site on Friday, I was split between Mono Green and Red-Black. After some test games, it became apparent that my green beasts didn’t even beat Red-Black in game 1, due to Heart of Kiran and Unlicensed Disintegration, let alone games 2 and 3 when they get to board into this hyper-effective midrange plan.
Also, looking around the side event tables and talking to people, it seemed like there would be a lot of Red-Black, maybe even more so than I had originally thought. At this point it seemed stupid to not just pick up the best deck in the room. I just needed to feel confident in the mirror.

 

Fabrizio Anteri came to the rescue with some sound arguments for cutting Bomat Courier as any 1-toughness creature is a liability in a world of Goblin Chainwhirler. The deck doesn’t even make that good use of the card, as it is bad at pushing the little guy through and frequently still has multiple cards in hand in the later stages of the game.


We heavily reduced the artifact sub-theme and added Soul-Scar Mage - a card that had been quite impressive at making our burnspells functional against bigger creatures and gods, as well as being ridiculously synergistic with Goblin Chainwhirler.

This is the list I ran, almost identical to the list I got from Fabrizio:



The entire weekend was just nuts. On Day 1, my only loss was to Mono Black Control that cast Torment of Hailfire for X=17. I finished 7-1 and for once quite happy with my play.

 

On day 2, I woke up at 8:56, 4 minutes before the start of round 9!! I had just slept through my two alarms! I panicked as I realised I could never make it to the tournament, but then I calmed down and told myself that I would just have to eat the match loss and try to make the best out of the day anyway. So I made sure that I wasn’t dropped from the tournament and calmly made my way to the venue before the start of round 10.


Apparently the inadvertant Sunday sleep-in special had given me the rest I needed, because I calmly defeated a row of mirror matches to put myself at 12-2.
I was going to be paired against Martin Juza but might have a chance to draw in. It turns out that Martin is in with a draw for sure, but I might get 9th if the wrong person wins on table 7. At this point I need to figure out what gives me the best chances of top 8. I could either take the draw and the 50/50 gamble that the player with better breakers than me loses on table 7, or play against Martin Juza. I know it is the mirror match, but he is also not running Bomat Courier. I decide to play.


I win the dieroll, have a good opening 7 and decide that my chances of winning are now above 50% so we play. The game spirals out of control due to Martin's two Glorybringer, and at one point I am dead on board, but he is at 3 life so I have one draw step for a burn spell. Before I draw my card, I offer the intentional match draw since I now think I am sub 50 % to win the match and I might not get a better spot where he would still accept it. Since he can’t risk losing the match, he agrees, and leaves me in a nailbiter for whether I am 8th or 9th.

“... And in 8th place, with 37 match points, Simon Nielsen!”

That was incredible. I was able to keep up my tight play, and defeat my friend Leo Lahonen's Blue-White Control deck in the finals. An unexpected end to a crazy weekend.

I thought I might miss Gold this season, but now I am only 1 point away. I have learnt to shy away from the decks I am emotionally attached to when they show signs of weakness and that I do have the ability to win even if I to go through a sea of mirror matches. Not counting my no-show and my draw, I went 6-0 in mirrors throughout the tournament. It certainly also helped that I was able to read the room and find advice on how to tune my deck for the expected field.

Hopefully you will be the next one to hoist an unexpected trophy!

 




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