2018 has been a hell of a year.
Back in 2016, at the very last Pro Tour of the year, Pro Tour Kaladesh, I fell off the Pro Tour after a long run. It's not a good feeling to care so much and fall short. Still, it is a strange, mixed feeling. Here you are, in this case in Hawaii of all places, and it is pretty extraordinary to be able to be there. In the background, you can hear Magic pros talking about their plans for the next event, and you know you are, for now, done.
If you're curious what that's like, here's a taste:
I spent all of 2017 and all of 2018 trying to get back to the Pro Tour. From a Magic perspective, I think the obvious best thing that happened for me in 2018 was getting back on the Pro Tour ("Mythic Championship") with the GP Milwaukee win. One of my other triumphs in 2018 Magic was less obvious.
This year, I started doing team events with the doubly inimitable Zac Hill and Ryan Saxe. I've been on a lot of Magic teams, both for the sake of playing in a single team event, or for the purpose of working together to solve a Magic format. One thing that is a real challenge in a team event is finding a group of people that feels incredibly coherent to play with. I've played with very talented players and I've played with very great friends. Nothing before now, though, has compared to how good it felt working with Zac and Ryan.
I've known Zac for years, and I had never met Ryan, but I felt like things were going to go pretty well during the first weekend of PPTQs. I had just done a sealed deck practice session in Madison, and that weekend I met one of the guys from that practice session in the finals of my PPTQ (he defeated me). At the same time, in NYC, Ryan and Zac both made the Top 8 of their PPTQ, and Ryan won the whole thing.
When we finally all got together for our first practice session, it felt perfect because of our collective approach. Any one of us could make a suggestion that the others hadn't thought of, and our mental process for doing Team Sealed as well as prepping for Team Unified Constructed just felt great. When we finally played together at Grand Prix DC in May, we lost to the Pro Tour superstar team of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Eric Froehlich, and Ben Stark, but even in losing, things felt great. It was a very close match, and even though any one of them was a better player than us, we felt like we were competitive, and but for a small shift in the winds of luck, we could have beaten them.
I don't know when we'll have the opportunity to play together next, and I especially don't know what any of it could mean in the future, where 2019 will bring Mythic Championships and MagicFests, but I hope there will be opportunities to fight the good fight with Zac and Ryan!
There may be a lot of changes on the horizon as we approach 2019, but there is always now. Here are the decks I'm playing right now in Magic:
Legacy is quite literally my favorite non-Limited format out there. While there are moments where Legacy has languished under the weight of some card or other, right now, it is back in that sweet spot where the games just feel incredibly powerful, fun, interesting, and defined by smart card choice and good play. Basically, it feels to me like all of the ways in which people praise Modern, but without all of the baggage. The big problem with Legacy is simple: card availability.
I decided to get back into Legacy in 2010 while I was covering it for the SCGLive circuit. These days, I'm lucky that I have a huge stable of cards. If you get a chance, I highly recommend that you get in, if for nothing else than it makes for some incredible Magic.
Before the event, I called Death and Taxes to be in the winning team of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary in Minneapolis - after the banning of Deathrite Shaman, I just felt like it was the best archetype. I was excited to see Allen Wu pilot the deck to a Pro Tour victory along with Ben Hull and my friend and occasional teammate Greg Orange.
Here is my current build of Death and Taxes, as of today:
Death and Taxes | Legacy | Adrian Sullivan
- Creatures (25)
- 1 Mangara of Corondor
- 1 Mirran Crusader
- 1 Palace Jailor
- 1 Sanctum Prelate
- 2 Recruiter of the Guard
- 3 Phyrexian Revoker
- 4 Flickerwisp
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 4 Stoneforge Mystic
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- Instants (4)
- 4 Swords to Plowshares
My build of Death and Taxes is fairly close to Allen Wu's. One of my favorite thing about Wu's build is that the main deck doesn't monkey around with cards I long have felt are wastes of time, like Serra Avenger, or the new versions of that card, like Brightling. These cards are absolutely fine, but they don't actually enact the important element that makes Death and Taxes what it is: Death and Taxes is a secret Prison deck.
As such, you want to maximize on cards that can shut down your opponent's possible paths to victory. Serra Avenger and Brightling only serve that kind of purpose in a narrow minority of matchups, and even then, that purpose could nearly always have been served by another card that was more versatile - Aven Mindcensor is a card that I almost always play when Serra Avenger is a more reasonable choice.
The biggest surprise in my maindeck is probably Mangara of Corondor. This card does a very good Palace Jailor impression in that it takes over games that go longer. What it adds to the deck that a second Palace Jailor wouldn't is a versatility that can only come from actually having a copy of a card in your deck, as opposed to no copies. Between Flickerwisp and Karakas, a Mangara of Corondor can do some truly cruel things in suppressing an opponent that is already down on their luck, and it can also be a potent way to survive situations that may otherwise be untenable.
In Legacy, like in any format, sideboard should change as the metagame shifts. Right now this set of 75 cards is built to be resilient in the face of a metagame including other Death and Taxes decks, Esper Stoneblade, various combo (like Storm) or near-combo (like Infect) lists, and the odd Eldrazi deck or other newcomer/from Legacy's history old-timer. I have about forty other cards I keep with me to answer various problems I expect, and things are always in flux, but this is what I'm playing today.
I still feel like I want a better answer to Toxic Deluge. I don't know whether that card is something narrow like Mana Tithe or Dust Elemental - as bizarre as that may be - or something more generally realistic like just ignoring it, and counting on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and good play to manage it. I do know that when I lose versus Esper, it is nearly always to Toxic Deluge or to True-Name Nemesis.
While Legacy is my true love in Constructed right now, I'm still quite enjoying Modern. Of course, many of you know that I'm a huge fan of Lantern; Lantern of Insight is a cruel card in Modern, and I do so enjoy playing decks that make it hard for my opponent to do something. With Assassin's Trophy in the mix, Lantern might be in a really good place again.
However, that being said, I've mostly been playing The Rock - good ol' Midrange.
Here is my current build of Midrange in Modern, today:
B/G Midrange | Modern | Adrian Sullivan
- Creatures (15)
- 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
- 3 Dark Confidant
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Tarmogoyf
- Sorceries (10)
- 1 Blackmail
- 1 Collective Brutality
- 1 Maelstrom Pulse
- 1 Traverse the Ulvenwald
- 2 Thoughtseize
- 4 Inquisition of Kozilek
- Lands (24)
- 2 Forest
- 4 Swamp
- 1 Hissing Quagmire
- 1 Twilight Mire
- 2 Overgrown Tomb
- 2 Treetop Village
- 4 Blooming Marsh
- 4 Field of Ruin
- 4 Verdant Catacombs
Good ol' Rock.
Playing this deck has been a real joy. Astute readers might recognize the core of this build is based on the excellent version by Kyle Boggemes. Kyle's take on Black-Green Midrange included a few incredibly intriguing choices, and after working on his list, I found myself quite in love with the deck.
One of the first things that made me love the deck was Blackmail. The discard package for this deck has always been a rough balancing act, and when I started playing Blackmail, very often it felt like exactly the card I wished Thoughtseize could be. Frankly, Thoughtseize is the better card, but that life loss really starts to be an issue in Modern, and can easily mean the difference between winning and losing. A third Thoughtseize would be great, but it is just too painful; playing Blackmail felt like having access to that Thoughtseize I wanted but without the occasional cost of "lose the game".
I'd also been eschewing Tireless Tracker in various (and ) Midrange decks, but with four Field of Ruin, it just started to feel like making Tireless Tracker work had become trivial. I'd had older versions run a couple, but cutting a Dark Confidant for a third copy felt really great in current Modern, where life total can be a real premium. I still think about a fourth copy of Tireless Tracker, but if I go that direction, I think a first copy of Courser of Kruphix might actually be the card I'd want.
Traverse the Ulvenwald has been a fantastic card for me in the deck, and I feel like I owe my use of this card to Sol Malka. While the original creator of The Rock likes to pair the single Traverse with cards like Eternal Witness, I felt fine without any singleton targets; I just wanted to have a virtual "+1" on all of my creature counts.
The sideboard is pretty straightforward. The most unusual choice is probably Sever the Bloodline. At a certain point, I found myself aching for a card that could take care of a runaway graveyard game while having strong applications beyond that. Sever the Bloodline is an awesome card versus Prized Amalgam, Arclight Phoenix, or a hoard of zombie (or any) tokens. At the same time, in long, grindy games, it isn't unreasonable to board in Sever the Bloodline for any creature-based matchup that you think will get to a point where seven mana is likely.
Finally, I'm going to leave you with what I'm playing in Standard, today.
Standard, Best of One
As a result of the success of MTG Arena, Standard Best of One seems likely to be a part of the future. It's certainly a part of the present. Here is my favorite Best of One deck, today:
Abzan Queen | Guilds Best of One Standard | Adrian Sullivan
- Creatures (19)
- 1 Thrashing Brontodon
- 2 Underrealm Lich
- 4 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Druid of the Cowl
- 4 Elvish Rejuvenator
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- Sorceries (2)
- 2 Find // Finality
- Enchantments (3)
- 3 On Serra's Wings
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Treasure Map
I'm still working on the fine details (I think I might need one more Green source, and I might want room for a second Thrashing Brontodon), but I've absolutely been loving this deck in a best-of-one format.
When you're playing Best of One versus the aggressive decks, On Serra's Wings is just an insane bomb when placed on a Carnage Tyrant or an Underrealm Lich. Aside from placing it on such a hard-to-kill creature, even placing it on a Druid of the Cowl or Thrashing Brontodon can be devastating.
In the near-mirror of other Golgari decks, your excessive ramp spells mean that you are likely to get an ultimate on a Planeswalker before your opponent, and all you have to do is "protect the queen" until it goes off. This is especially the case because of Treasure Map helping to make that happen. In lieu of that, in just a general grind, you basically get the advantage of having a moment where, in the late game, you will very likely have a Carnage Tyrant with an On Serra's Wings enchanting it. Unless they have Detection Tower, this will typically end it.
Finally, versus the more classic control decks, you have so many significant card advantage engines plus four Carnage Tyrants, you can often push people over.
I can absolutely tell that the exact 60 cards I have here aren't perfectly put together. But it feels close.
My Best-of-Three Standard deck is likely to be of no surprise to you.
Standard, Best of Three
If it ain't broke?
I'm playing Niv-Mizzet Treasure in Standard.
Here is my current list, as of today:
Niv-Mizzet Treasure | Guilds Standard | Adrian Sullivan
- Planeswalkers (3)
- 3 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- Instants (17)
- 1 Settle the Wreckage
- 1 Shock
- 1 Syncopate
- 2 Dive Down
- 2 Ionize
- 2 Spell Pierce
- 4 Expansion // Explosion
- 4 Opt
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Treasure Map
- Lands (25)
- 6 Island
- 3 Clifftop Retreat
- 4 Glacial Fortress
- 4 Sacred Foundry
- 4 Steam Vents
- 4 Sulfur Falls
I still see a lot of people who don't seem to fundamentally understand how this deck works. If you are playing it like a control deck, it won't pay off; you have to understand the Strategic Archetype that it occupies: Hybrid Control. One easy way to understand it from a practical rather than theoretical perspective is this: Niv-Mizzet, Parun kills so quickly, if you aren't taking advantage of that, you are selling the deck short.
This means that, regardless of mana considerations, Ionize is better than Sinister Sabotage and running less than three Expansion // Explosions is a mistake. While I'm fine with Negate, this means that choosing to forego Dive Down to delay Niv-Mizzet by a turn is a mistake. Yes, a Niv-Mizzet a turn slower is still wildly powerful. No, you don’t want to be doing it.
Since Grand Prix Milwaukee, I've added a second Spell Pierce to the main. It has been a phenomenal choice, and if you're really a huge Negate fan, consider swapping over to Spell Pierce. In addition, I've gone to a fourth Expansion // Explosion, in large part to add to the weapons available in the Golgari fight, but also to compensate for the loss of Syncopate in the control fight. Much of the rest of the deck remains unchanged. Altogether, I love those two matchups. If you're expecting more Niv-Mizzet, Parun from the metagame, you can change that fourth Expansion // Explosion to a Ral, Izzet Viceroy.
Red-based Aggro decks remain, to my mind, a close matchup that slightly favors Niv-Mizzet, whereas White, be it Mono-White or Boros, is a horrible matchup. You can win it, but it takes more real estate than I'm comfortable with. Unlike other Jeskai decks, the occasional Blue Aggro-Control opponent is still an easy matchup, folding hard to Niv-Mizzet, even if they get their Curious Obsession draw.
The great thing about this list is you can continuously tailor it to a metagame. Unless there are a lot of Adanto Vanguard in your area, I still strongly recommend this deck!
2019 is almost here! Ravnica Allegiance is almost here! The world will definitely change soon, but for now, for today, these are the decks I'm playing the most.
One final note: this weekend, I'm getting my other streaming accessories (hello camera and microphone!), so in 2019, I'll be seeing you regularly on Twitch!
Have a great New Year!
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