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Jeskai and the Cleveland Story

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Last week, I shared with you all of the decks I was considering for Pro Tou… err, Mythic Championship Cleveland. Out of respect for the people I was working with, and to protect any interest tricks, I didn't share the exact 75, but I did share the exact archetypes I was looking at.

Here is the tale in more detail.

Leading into the Pro Tour, I'd talked to Greg Orange about working together, and I was hooked up with what I'll call a confederation of players who were sharing information. This wasn't a team, per se - it was a group of people just looking to pool ideas. At the same time, I was talking to a few old friends of mine, Zvi Mowshowitz and Alan Comer, who were both planning on attending Cleveland, and were also interested in a somewhat loose bit of information sharing.

Directly leading into Grand Prix New Jersey, I was pretty sure that I wanted to play Curious Obsession. I've loved Curious Obsession decks for basically over 20 years, ever since Curiosity was the Curious Obsession in print, and I thought that the deck was incredibly well positioned for the tournament. I was especially thinking back to a moment many years earlier, where my opponent, Alex Borteh, cast a Merfolk of the Pearl Trident on turn one, and I was just certain that I'd lose the match. And I did.

There are just some decks that are fundamentally positioned over others - it doesn't happen very often, but when it does, it is hard to flip that script. Add onto that the power of Mono-Blue to be able to just steal games with their "unbeatable" draw.

Also in the mix for preparation were old-school collaborators that I've had for eons as well: notably Ian Degraff, but others as well, like Brian Kowal and Ronny Serio, as well as a whole slew of the Madison crew in general, some of whom came by to get some live play-testing in with me during the weeks leading into Cleveland.

In last week's article, I went into the two big shifts that came in my thinking:

I started moving away from Mono-Blue Curiosity because of the mirror. I couldn't actually find a way to feel like I had an edge in any meaningful way, and I simply hadn't been specializing in it. Even with that specialization, I feel like the most practiced player - say the inimitable Autumn Burchett - would still only be at 55% against another player who knew the deck.

This feeling kept being borne out in testing.

Then, with Jody Keith's deck, the Rakdos Midrange (really, Big Red with a tiny splash), getting onto the radar, I moved it from being a gentle front-runner into being a gentle dog to the other deck that was another leader on my radar, the Jeskai Niv-Mizzet deck I won Grand Prix Milwaukee with. I liked both decks, but the tie-breaker, for me, was just how horrifying it was to play against Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Niv-Mizzet, Parun with Rakdos. If it was only that feeling for the Rakdos deck, that wouldn't be enough, but Niv-Mizzet, Parun was also a hard card to handle for Mono-Blue and Esper, and also unbeatable for the Wilderness Reclamation decks if it stayed in play - and lo and behold, when you run Dive Down, it seemed to stay in play a great deal.

I registered the following deck.


Savvy readers will recognize that this deck is not too different from my GP Milwaukee list.

The most important card in the deck from Ravnica Allegiance is easy: Hallowed Fountain. The deck needed just a little bit more White than it ran previously, but the other major problem for the deck was that the color ratios were off between Red and Blue - prior to Hallowed Fountain, the deck ran more Red than needed because you simply needed every single White source you could get your hands on. Problem solved.

There aren't even any main deck cards from Ravnica Allegiance in the deck other than that Hallowed Fountain, though there is a single Angel of Grace in the Sideboard. The Angel of Grace was excellent, though more expensive than I'd like for the effort. The biggest change, really, is shifting out various cards that were previously in Standard in favor of other cards that suited the metagame, like more Rekindling Phoenix, for example, and Justice Strike instead of Lava Coil since the mana could more easily support it - this was especially great when facing down Hydroid Krasis.

In terms of the draft portions, I felt incredibly ready for Ravnica Allegiance draft.

Here's a brief rundown in how the event went, a slightly more detailed mirror of the rundown I gave on my Facebook page.

Draft One

My first draft was pretty excellent, and I ended up with the following deck:

Round One, Hunter Cochran from New York state, U/W High Alert, Win 2-0

Our first game is a total slog, and High Alert very nearly finishes me off, pumping up a Concordia Pegasus and an Azorius Knight-Arbiter, but I weather the storm. The second game is similar, though an Eyes Everywhere sits impotent in the face of my Sphinx of the Guildpact which dominates the table.

Round Two, Prads Pathirana from Sydney, Australia, R/G Aggro, Win 2-1

This felt like an incredible bit of luck. Game 1, he was pedal-to-the-metal, 2-drop, 3-drop, Sunder Giant, whereas my turn four on the play made things look pretty innocent with mana acceleration and a Shimmer of Possibility. Fortunately for me, I played a turn five Kaya's Wrath, and still, despite that, only barely won at two life. Game 2, he rolled me, and Game 3 I nearly lost, but he flooded out after I cast Kaya's Wrath a second time thanks to Clear the Mind.

Round Three, João Lucas Caparroz from Brazil, Mardu Midrange, Win 2-1

His deck was excellent, with a four good rares and a frustrating Iggy (Ill-Gotten Inheritance), which took the second game, but in the others, I just outdrew him and outground him.

Day One Constructed

Round Four, Brian Braun-Duin from Virginia, Izzet Drakes, Lose 1-2

We had a great back-and-forth in the first two games, the first of which he rolled me and the second of which, he scooped to Niv-Mizzet, Parun.

The final game, though, was frustrating for me. I made the incorrect choice with Opt, and didn't take Negate to protect my Enigma Drake from the cards I'd already seen in games one and two (Entrancing Melody, Beacon Bolt, Lava Coil). As a result, I can't protect my Enigma Drake on his turn five from an Entrancing Melody, and I was facing down two Drakes, mine and his, instead of protecting it, casting Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and having the board be empty on his side versus my Enigma Drake, Teferi, and Treasure Map.

Damn.

Well, I deserved that loss.

Round Five, Tom Martell from Santa Monica, Izzet Phoenix, Lose 1-2

This was much like the match versus BBD in games one and two, with a pair of lopsided games where we simply do our thing. Game 3, I dropped a Niv-Mizzet, Parun, but I was out of instants and had to draw a spell to stabilize, and instead whiffed to losses on turn one of extra turns; I don't know if I could have won it in time had I drew the spell, but I could have forced a draw.

Round Six, Carmine D'Aniello from Italy, Sultai Midrange, Lose 0-2

I felt quite dominated by Carmine because of his spectacular draws. He was caught cheating later in the event, so who is to say!

Round Seven, Magnus Lanto from Sweden, White Weenie, Lose 1-2

Magnus was a joy to play against, and he took me down in three games. White Weenie is capable of producing some truly brutal draws, and in one turn, he was capable of producing so much damage he was able to attack into an Angel of Grace and a Lyra Dawnbringer and still kill me.

Round Eight, John Farrow of Atlanta, Sultai Midrange, Win 2-1

We have a good back and forth in the first two games, but in the final game, he does a fair amount of damage before sweepers kill his board twice, and then Niv-Mizzet, Parun mops up after Dive Down protects it.

Draft Two

I think my second deck was also good.

Round Nine, Javier Dominguez of Spain, 4c-Clear the Mind, Lose 0-2

Javier's deck is excellent, but it also includes everyone's favorite enchantment Ethereal Absolution. I'm able to get him just on the verge of death both games, but can't close. The most dramatic moment was casting a mid-game Light Up the Stage, revealing two creature removal spells to his empty board, and seeing him smile.

"I guess I won't cast these creatures next turn," he joked.

I guess not!

Round Ten, Dmitriy Butakov of Siberia, 5c-Clear the Mind, Win 2-0

I heard from Sam Black that Dmitriy had very good cards, but I honestly killed him too fast to know; he had mana troubles which exacerbated that.

Round Eleven, Guilherme Merjam of Brazil, Rakdos Aggro, Lose 1-2

Whoever was on the play crushed it in the first two games. In the final game, things were down to the wire when I drew a few lands in a row and he finished me off.

Day Two Constructed

Round Twelve, Wing Chun Yam of Hong Kong, Bant Reclamation, Lose 1-2

I easily beat him on the back of a protected Niv-Mizzet, Parun in Game 1. He crushes me in a long slog in Game 2 with a Biogenic Ooze. In the next game, I foolishly fight over a Search for Azcanta which doesn't threaten me, and he follows up with an Ooze that I could have beaten. Niv-Mizzet, Parun shows up (hence why I could ignore Search for Azcanta), but I can't beat the Ooze that I should have fought over in the first place.

Mistakes are real, my friends.

Round Thirteen, Jhohan Herrera of Columbia, Esper Control, Lose 1-2

In Game 1, we have a lot of laughs over my inability to draw any spells. We're both doing poorly enough that there doesn't really feel like any pressure, and I think we even started amusing (annoying?) our neighbors with our laughter. The second game gets taken over by Niv-Mizzet, Parun, or otherwise might have been an excellent game. In the third game, however, Thief of Sanity on turn three totally tears me up, and I never recover.

Round Fourteen, Emmanuel Bernuau of Paris, Esper Control, Win 2-1

We have two excellent games. In the third game, however, Thief of Sanity on turn three threatens to tear me up, but I quickly get out a Niv-Mizzet, Parun, which despite being answered three times, turns it all around.

Round Fifteen, Evan Gascoyne of Madison, Wisconsin, White Weenie, Win 2-1

Evan utterly smashes me in one game, I barely take control of another because of Lyra Dawnbringer followed by numerous sweepers, and then Game 3, I only barely win because Evan stumbles early on mana (and still nearly crushes me).

Round Sixteen, Carlos Pal of Costa Rica, Blue Curiosity, Win 2-0

Niv-Mizzet, Parun is pretty dominating of this matchup if they don't get going very quickly. That doesn't happen, and I take this match down in short order.

The Aftermath

8-8.

This is not wildly exciting.

On the other hand, I think that there were some small errors with the list.

First of all, the White mana was just ever so shy. There were a few games where if I drew any White source I might be able to immediately take over the game.

In addition, Thief of Sanity was a bigger problem than anticipated - this was also true of Legion Warboss for that matter. In the old list, Syncopate was a part of how you could fight that fight. I don't think that Syncopate is actually all that good, but Enigma Drake could help versus the fast turn three play, and also be an extra card to help support the aggressive matchups. Keeping the curve low matters.

I missed Settle the Wreckage in the 75; the card was just wildly powerful, and having access to one or two seems important. I prefer one because Cleansing Nova is such a potent, yet similar, weapon, and you can't afford to give some opponents you'd want to Nova against the mana that they'd get from Settle the Wreckage.

Here is the list as I would play it today, after the benefit of having played it in such an elite event:


I still like a few of the unconventional cards in the list like Spell Swindle. Spell Swindle was absolutely phenomenal versus Esper and Wilderness Reclamation, as well as versus Sultai Midrange. Though expensive, the card is similar to Unwind in that it keeps you "in position" when these decks attempt to do something at end of turn that is a problem, and is really powerfully punishing against huge plays like Hydroid Krasis.

The swap to Disdainful Stroke number two over Negate number two came out of the recognition of just how similar both of these cards were, but that there were more than a few games where I absolutely lost because I couldn't stop a big creature that I could have fought over with Disdainful Stroke.

I went 4-6 in Constructed, which is not inspiring, but two of those losses were critical mistakes in Game 3, and one loss was against someone who was ejected from the event. Does that mean I think the deck is "good"?

I think the deck is good but not great. The problem with the deck might be simply that Esper does most of the same work, but is more stable. This deck is actually good against Wilderness Reclamation where Esper struggles, and is better against Mono-Blue, but it suffers against the other aggressive decks, and the Esper matchups is a real fight for Jeskai, one which can be utterly stolen by Thief of Sanity.

I still think this deck is worth playing in Standard. It is solidly good, and a worthy deck to put in your arsenal if you're looking for the power of the kitty dragon, Niv-Mizzet, Parun.

I'm so excited to have seen Mono-Blue take it all down, especially in the capable hands of Autumn Burchett - congrats, Autumn! I already said this in person, but I'm so glad for your success! Magic is better for having you in the game!

It was a great weekend, despite my mediocre finish. In part, it was because of the incredible, global nature of the game. Magic is so much about the people, and I'm glad to have seen so many amazing face at the event!

I can't wait for my next Mythic Championship!

- Adrian Sullivan

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