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Pro Tour Challenge


As I am sure many of you savvy redditors are aware by now, a user posted a fairly large challenge to anyone qualified for the next Pro Tour. If you are like me and choose to spend time online not glued to the eternal message board, you have probably still heard, but if not, the deal is that one person is willing to supposedly put up a large sum of money, just under the top prize, for anyone who will play a particular card as the focus of his or her deck. I only found out about this challenge through the dozens of readers, friends, and colleagues who sent me a link asking if I was related to the incident, as the card in question just happens to be Séance, my pet card from years ago.

While I may be crazy in the cards I pick up at bulk to hold—such as Séance—I do not have the kind of money to throw around to perform economic experiments, nor would I want to strong-arm a card into having results. I usually have backing for each of my picks, and while I certainly will not be angry if this call is met, I have no stake in the challenge. That being said, this seems to be as good a time as any to post the Séance list I have been working on for over a year now—it is a surprise to no one who knows me that I would be on this card anyway, and if I were qualified, I would be more than willing to accept the challenge, which I would already intend to meet anyway.

This is where I left off with the deck when I shelved it a few months ago, and it’s where I will return to come the Modern season. Today, I saw more than one respected pro talk about attempting to play this card, and while I am sure there are a ton of ways to take this card, I feel I have a strong base to build from here. I have not looked at anything from Magic Origins or Battle for Zendikar to update the list, but I will leave that to the pros. Whether or not this challenge turns out to be real, it will be cool to see some of the more respected players’ takes on such an odd build-around card. I truly do believe the power level is there in the right shell, and I would love to see a potential combo with Laboratory Maniac and Mirror-Mad Phantasm, but for now, I will keep my brewing to Standard.

Speaking of Standard, I was fortunate enough to be able to steal away for some playtime this past Sunday. I attended GameLinks in Fowlerville for their first ever StarCityGames Invitational Qualifier, and while the turnout was low—only bringing in sixteen players—I was able to get some of the testing I was looking for.

I tweaked the Sideboard a little bit from what I posted last week, and I ended up moving some cards around to be able to try a few singletons. I could also only acquire two copies of Liliana, Heretical Healer, so I made a metagame call and ran an extra Zulaport Cutthroat, which turned out to be the correct call. The final list I played looked like this:

While the changes were small overall, they did allow me to see where individual cards would shine, and they replaced cards I found myself rarely ’boarding in anyway, such as Abzan Ascendancy. I am still looking to put Whisperwood Elemental in the ’board, but I could not find a second copy. The fourth Liliana is questionable, as the Atarka Red match is already favorable—certainly more so than the four-colored variant anyway. Sultai Emissary is a huge piece of the puzzle to beating that deck, and Cutthroat was an all-star against that deck’s early board as well.

The metagame there was heavily skewed toward Atarka Red, which I was looking forward to, and though it was nearly half the field, I only played it once.

Round 1 — David: Esper Dragons

Both of these games were rather short, as in Game 1, I found David with no answer to Rally the Ancestors, allowing Liliana to take over and begin to keep the board cluttered and our hands empty. In Game 2, David mulliganed to five, which was already rough, but when I found three of my four Emissaries, there was just no good answer, and I was able to drain him quickly enough before he managed to recover. This matchup is favorable once you learn what spells to hold and when to begin forcing the Esper deck’s hand, but this is a match in which the four-colored variant may be weaker as well. Not only does Jace not avoid removal as easily as Liliana, he also does very little after he is transformed unless you find Collected Company. Liliana begins to shred the opponent’s hand while threatening to ultimate if needed; otherwise, she brings back Catacomb Sifter and Grim Haruspex to keep the card advantage coming. Fleshbag Marauder is also superior to Sidisi's Faithful in this match as a way to answer Dragonlord Ojutai the other variant lacks.

Dragonlord Ojutai
Dragonlord Atarka

Round 2 — Andrew: Atarka Red

I played against a well-known up-and-coming grinder from the state and managed to pull off Game 1 with a midgame Rally to seal things up. This game, he never really gained enough traction on board to take through the early Catacomb Sifter I presented, and that brought me all the time I needed. Game 2 was a close one—I stabilized at 3 for a few turns but was unable to draw a Cutthroat or large spell to gain any form of advantage, and I eventually died to a swarm of creatures. I do find when I lose to this deck that the combo after ’board becomes much less reliable for the opponent, and therefore, he or she has to go wide, which you can usually match, just not in this one. Game 3 progressed much the same way Game 2 did except I was able to find an early enough Cutthroat to begin the slow burn. After a few turns, the board position was insurmountable, and the match was over—another win for Rally the Darkness.

On a side note, this matchup has become a ton better main deck than it was with the four-colored version—once again, Liliana is superior to Jace, and the lifelink she brings to the table can be surprisingly relevant. Sultai Emissary has been working overtime still and has been just what this deck needed to firmly plant itself in the metagame.

As much as I was hoping for a full tournament report, this is where I took the easy way out, as I was almost ensured a Top 4 finish when we broke to Top 8, giving me advantage in at least the first match, which was good enough for me. I double-drew Rounds 3 and 4 to prepare for the Top 8 and relaxed for a while—after all, we have to ease our way back in; otherwise, I may become overwhelmed with all of the triggers. Playing this deck on Magic Online helps a lot with remembering the sequence in which to stack things, but porting that over to real matches can prove to be a challenge.

Top 8 Quarterfinals — Juan: W/B Warriors

As luck would have it, I managed to be paired up against the only other non-Atarka-Red deck in the Top 8, and while I was fine with that, this match proved to be much more difficult than the 2–0 result lets on. I had written about this deck a few weeks ago, and up until now, I had not played against it much, but I was really surprised with both the reactions and clock it can have over Rally. Mardu Woe-Reaper can be a real pain, counteracting some of the life-loss while shutting off a potential Rally, which is extremely relevant since you have to block aggressively in the early game so as to not be surprised midgame with lords and cards that make blocking difficult.

Mardu Woe-Reaper
I was curious just how much game this deck could possibly have against us, but given both games I stabilized below 5, I could have certainly seen things going the other way with the right draws. As I expect this deck to show up more and more as the cheapest aggro deck available, it will probably be something I try to test as much as possible in the coming weeks.

After making semifinals, the store decided to reallocate prizes, and I was able to take off, as the invite meant very little to me—certainly less than two extra hours in my evening. While I believe I was well positioned to take the entire thing down, given it would have been Ataraka Red twice, I prefer not to leave things up to chance, and I happily walked away with $60 and twelve packs. Busting them in the car, I also finally broke my cold streak and opened a Misty Rainforest, so while the testing was less than I hoped for, the day overall was great and gave me some real-world experience playing the deck, which it turns out I really did need.

As we move closer to the holidays, there will be fewer and fewer events, so I may look at doing something fun for the next few weeks to keep things interesting. I will still update any of the new lists that come through, but I don't imagine we'll be seeing a ton of innovation this month. If you have any ideas as to a topic you would like to read about, feel free to post in the comments below or message me on Twitter.

Ryan Bushard


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