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Pro Tour Gatecrash: Making the Deck

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The current arrangement of the Pro Tour presents multiple interesting challenges that weren’t part of previous versions of the Tour. First is the fact that every PT is both Limited and Constructed. The obvious consequence is that you’ll no longer be making any Top 8s if you’re merely a specialist in one format. The second big challenge is that each PT takes place immediately after the release of a new set, allowing for a minimal opportunity to learn the new set for both formats.

One major result of these challenges is enduring a compressed deck-selection process for Constructed while simultaneously taking a crash course in drafting the new set. What follows is how I determined what I was going to play for the Standard portion of Pro Tour: Gatecrash.

 


 

The last time I played in a big Standard event, I was playing this:

Splinterfright
Since then, the metagame has evolved quite a bit, and that’s without even adding Gatecrash. With the Pro Tour looming only three weeks after Gatecrash was released, my teammate Rob Dougherty and I had no time to lose if we were going to design/develop/choose strong Standard decks for the PT in our meager free time. Back when Rob and I were making PT Top 8s, we were young and single with jobs that either revolved around Magic or otherwise allowed us copious free time for working on Magic. At one point, I even quit my job to focus completely on Magic. Now we’re both north of forty, and we have lives that are less focused on Magic. In Rob’s case, it’s particularly impressive when he finds time for Magic, as he’s a full-time parent of four youngsters with a full-time (non-Magic-related) job as well. Further complicating matters was the facts that we’re separated by over a two-hour drive and Gatecrash wouldn’t be out online until the week of the PT.

I developed a four-part plan:

  • Develop/adapt Lhurgoyfs – I really liked my Golgari deck, and if there was a way to make it work for the PT, I wanted to do it.
  • Red aggro – In recent years, this archetype has been a bit of a default/favorite of mine. This in part because it can be a great option for events when I have very little prep time. If there was a good red aggro deck out there, I would consider it.
  • 5K decks – StarCityGames was going to have two 5K Standard events with Gatecrash before the PT, which would be certain to generate some good decklists for me to consider. Perhaps one would either be to my liking or at least inspire my own build.
  • Original design – Sometimes, I have an inspiration (such as with my Golgari deck) and it leads to something worth playing. Perhaps this would be one of those times.

When the decklists for the first of the two 5Ks were released, the work began in earnest, because now I had a metagame to put my work in context. The first thing I looked for as I scanned the Top 32 lists was trends. The first things I noted were that it was a creature heavy Top 32 made up almost entirely of aggro and midrange decks, with almost no control or combo. The two big exceptions were the Reanimator deck that finished second and the U/W/R Flash deck that finished 5th. This suggested I should probably either play the best aggro/midrange deck I could find or somehow find a deck that matched up really well with these sorts of decks.

For my first playtest session with Rob, I built a new version of Golgari and versions of the three aggro decks that made the Top 4: G/W Humans, red aggro, and R/G aggro. This was my new Golgari list:

I also brought one other deck that I’d been brewing from scratch. I was intrigued by the idea of building around Foundry Champion. I figured I’d want some ramping since it cost 6 and requires a lot of creatures to max its effect, so going base-green with a lot of mana creatures seemed to be the right basic concept:

Rob built the R/W/U Flash deck for our playtest session, and we got down to testing. I became excited when Golgari did great against Humans, but it fared badly against Flash. My Naya deck had some flashes of potential, but for the most part, it seemed not-quite-tier-one. While none of the decks we tested blew me away, I spent the long drive home with my dog Molly thinking about a design of Golgari that would do better against control and on improvements to red aggro.

For Golgari, I went back to a build more like my original in hopes of improving my long game:

My main problem with the red aggro decks that we tested was that they seemed to either be flooded or screwed too often with their twenty-two lands and low curve. With twenty-two lands, it’s easy to mana stall, and with a really low curve, it’s also easy to flood. So, I designed a twenty-four-land version with many more things to use my mana on as the game progressed:

Fortunately for me, my friend Kyle is something of a red aggro fanatic, and he was happy to test a bunch of different red builds for me with his friends. My twenty-four-land red was quickly dismissed, as he determined that Archwing Dragon and Devil's Play weren’t well-placed for the environment, and those cards were the main reason the deck needed twenty-four lands. It was about this time when I came across Tomoharu Saito’s R/G deck on Twitter. While he was playing two colors and only twenty lands, he apparently still managed to go 5–0 in an event with it. Here it is:

While I was pretty excited about this deck, I hated running four 3-drops and four 4-drops in a deck with only twenty lands. I came up with an alternate variant that I could stomach:

I replaced his 3- and 4-drops with Stonewrights and Ghor-Clan Rampagers. Now I could run the entire deck with two lands if needed, yet I still had four 4-drops, and the Stonewrights gave me some game if I flooded. I headed back to meet Rob for our final testing session with twenty-land R/G, a similar twenty-land mono-red deck, my latest Golgari build, G/W Humans, and a version of Naya with even more life-gaining creatures (Centaur Healer).

Stonewright
My heart was broken immediately when our red decks completely destroyed my Golgari deck. I even had a draw with turn-two Troll and turn-three Troll, and it still wasn’t close. Okay, that was fine; I like Red . . . While the R/G version was powerful, I quickly started to lean toward the mono-red—the added power didn’t seem enough to risk the color problems. It seemed to hold up well against Humans. Time for R/W/U Flash. What ensued was a long string of frustrating games. When I had good mana draws, I usually won handily. Just as often, though, I was being mana screwed or mana flooded. Not surprisingly, I was having the same problem with twenty-land red that I had with twenty-two-land red the previous week. Once again, I left for the drive home dissatisfied.

At that point, I was pretty sure that I wanted to play red; I just needed to find a version that I was comfortable with. I now realized my problem with twenty-land red was exactly the same problem I had when I was drafting sixteen-land Boros in the Magic Online Gatecrash release weekend. After going 0–3 with a low-curve, sixteen-land Boros deck, I explained to Rob that in most of the games I lost, I seemed to be being either mana screwed or mana flooded and that it seemed to be happening way too often. That was when he reminded me that by building a super-low-mana deck with a super-low curve, I was increasing the chances of both screw and flood. Taking this to heart, I immediately drafted Boros again, but this time, I built it with seventeen lands and a few more late-game cards. Sure enough, my mana problems were greatly reduced, and I went 3–0 in the Draft pretty easily.

With this lesson in mind, I retooled my twenty-land Red deck with twenty-two land and more ways to use my mana if I was flooded:

The key twist was adding Frostburn Weird. With it, I have a 2-drop that can give me an edge against other aggro decks while also giving me another useful place to pour extra mana. I also like having a 2-drop that’s capable of trading with a Restoration Angel. I’m writing this article two days before the Pro Tour. Tomorrow, I leave for Montreal after—I hope—acquiring the cards to build this deck. While I consider myself locked into this deck, I did just get off the phone with Rob, who’s been testing online and fallen in love with a three-colored, nineteen-land Human swarm deck, so like all PTs, there’s always the chance of a last-minute miracle deck. Either way, here’s hoping I have another good PT run left in me . . .

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