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Sullivan Library: A Legendary PTQ Weekend


This weekend, my friend and former Pro Tear teammate, Ray Perez, Jr. crushed the Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifier with a really cool "Sai Storm" deck in Standard. He didn't win, but in checking out the results of the PTQ, I found some surprises in the top of the field I didn't expect to see.

One of the first things I want to do when I'm looking at a tournament like a PTQ is not simply look at the Top 8, but try to get a sense of the metagame as a whole, as best as I can. Usually, you can learn a lot by paying attention to the things that surround the top deck or decks; in many cases, these decks didn't make it into the mix because of the slimmest of margins of good or bad luck, and the entirety of a tournament could be different if a die roll was changed in one match in the last round. Wings of a butterfly, and all that.

So the short version of the story of the Magic Online PTQ from July 14th is this: Grixis Midrange won the whole thing, and bg Stompy put the most copies of a deck into the Top 8. Maybe a slightly more fun side story is that six Top 8 decks had four different Legendary cards in their main deck (the last two had three and one, respectively).

We could laugh and say that more Legendary permanents makes a better deck. Take the winner's deck, for example:

This isn't just a cool deck. It's also a massive grind-fest of a deck. Earlier this week, Ali Aintrazi talked about the deck in detail, and this is clearly a minor update to the 5-0 list Oliver Hart played as the format began. The numbers may be tweaked here and there, but basically you have a deck packed with a decent amount of early interaction that makes use of the best Ravenous Rats ever: Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.

Even a 1/1 with a discard ability attached to it would be meaningful, but attaching it to a card as otherwise incredible as Nicol Bolas, the Ravager makes it a bit obscene. With Liliana, Death's Majesty and The Scarab God in the mix, it's truly gross.

So, this deck won the whole thing, and we know that it also has had a recent smattering of success in other events. But what does the big picture look like from the Magic Online PTQ?

This was a 300 player PTQ. At the end of the day, courtesy of no-draws-possible in Magic Online Magic: the Gathering, a grand total of twenty-four folks were tied for Top 8; at the top, things went tight: while the 7th seed was clear, eventual PTQ winner Gobern was the 8th seed, and had only a 0.0023% OMWP edge over 9th place, and for that matter, only a 0.022% edge over 13th place. Talk about close!

Of these 24 players tied for Top 8, eight archetypes were represented:

  • Grixis Midrange: four total players, including the winner
  • bg Stompy: four total players, including three players in the Top 8
  • br Aggro: seven total players, with one in the Top 8
  • Sai Storm: two total players, with one in the Top 8
  • bg Constrictor: two total players, with one in the Top 8
  • Red Aggro: three total players
  • ug Karn: one player, who made the Top 8
  • ub GPG: one player

Stompy's success in the top of the field was a big deal. Three players in the Top 8 is very impressive. Maybe boding poorly for the archetype, though, was the difficulty they had dispatching the Grixis Midrange deck, which eliminated two Stompy players from contention.

This is a supremely cool deck, with a fairly surprising bit of representation from Magic 2019 cards, with Thorn Lieutenant, Vine Mare, and Vivien Reid all making the cut. Thorn Lieutenant deserves a bigger mention.

Thorn Lieutenant

This really answered the question about what to do with the 2-drops in the deck. While previously, some people would consider Servant of the Conduit or Resilient Khenra (or occasionally more wild choices), Thorn Lieutenant is a perfect example of the increase in a card pool decreasing diversity. When you can play a clearly incredible card that is truly "resilient" against removal and can win in a flooded mana board state, it's hard to go elsewhere.

While the other 2-drop, Scrapheap Scrounger, still remains a card I'm not certain of conceptually, the fact remains that the top lists all ran four of the card, even if it is incredibly common that the only thing they have to do with the Black mana is activate a Scrapheap Scrounger. While I suspect that pure Mono-Green may be better, I very well could be wrong about this.

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the deck Ray Perez, Jr. played, since I spoke about him at the beginning of the article. Check out this little spicy number:

This is a damned cool deck. Inspiring Statuary and Sai, Master Thopterist work together so well to basically make any non-artifact spell feel pretty close to free. Firing off an Aetherflux Reservoir feels almost trivial, and then there are the sneaky tricks one can use -- Baral's Expertise into Commit // Memory for example -- to really take off in card, in addition to the power of Paradoxical Outcome to do the same.

There are fun elements to the sideboard I love as well. With Baral, Chief of Compliance in the board, the deck can become very adept at playing countermagic against an opponent where that need is important. Karn, Scion of Urza feels more exciting here in the board than it does in many other decks, just because you have so many artifacts and Sai working together to make Karn's tokens into something ferocious.

Ray was taken down by eventual finalist whitnen, but I'm sure that this deck's time in the spotlight is just beginning.

While there are plenty more decks to look to, the final deck that seems important to talk about is the br Aggro deck.

Here is the top finishing version:

The distinction between what makes a deck "br Aggro" or "Red Aggro (with Scrapheap Scrounger)" might seem narrow, but it is really quite simple: does the deck have four Canyon Slough. The br Aggro deck, whether it does or doesn't run Heart of Kiran or Unlicensed Disintegration is still a slightly slower cousin to the pure Red Aggro deck, whether or not that deck runs Scrapheap Scrounger and five-or-so Black sources of mana. A big part of that is that the dedicated decision to give access to consistent Black mana results in more regularly slowed down draws, just as an inevitable reality. That can be just fine, as evidenced by the astounding seven copies of the deck tied for Top 8.

The variation in these decks is quite impressive. Take this version:

I tried to decide whether this deserved classification with Grixis Midrange or with br Aggro, and frankly, it looks a lot more like the latter, despite the Blue splash. Much like Red Aggro with Scrapheap Scrounger basically performs like Red Aggro without it, for the most part, this performs more like br Aggro than something else.

I don't know that I could bring myself to run this deck, but I will say that it looks incredibly fun. I keep picturing curving out from Soul-Scar Mage into Kari Zev, Skyship Raider into Goblin Chainwhirler and capping it off with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. Awesome.

The more vanilla Red Aggro decks that are more my cup of tea have a potential strike against them: they were only represented three times. I have a feeling this may be related to the very large amount of four-toughness creatures that were running around the metagame. Stompy comes with a larger collection of hard-to-deal-with-fatties than ever before in this cycle of Standard, and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is ubiquitous now as well.

Looking forward, I expect these last two decks are the ones I'm going to gravitate toward during this Standard season. Crazy to think that Llanowar Elf is so well represented in a world where there are so many Goblin Chainwhirler, but the backup cards are so good, it just works out. As for Nicol Bolas, it's hard to not hunger to exploit the villain of the story as well, and I'm sure there is more room to brew in that direction.

This is an intriguing Standard, and we're only now just getting going. I can't wait to see where it heads next.

- Adrian Sullivan

@AdrianLSullivan on Twitter

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