A Grand (Prix) Weekend

Posted in Top Decks on February 20, 2015

By Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas plays, writes, and makes videos about Magic. He has played on the Pro Tour for almost a decade, and between that and producing content for ChannelFireball, often has his hands full (of cards).

We've got a double Grand Prix weekend coming up, with Modern in Vancouver and Standard in Memphis. Next week I'm sure I'll be looking at what did well in those tournaments (and hoping one of the lists I get to talk about is whatever I end up playing), but for now I'll tackle the other side of that, and run down what I think are some of the best choices in either format. I did just talk about Modern, so let's start with the results from Grand Prix Seville, the Standard Grand Prix that was held last weekend.

This is a diverse Top 8. Not only are there seven different archetypes in the Top 8 (although the two Abzan lists are pretty close together), there are big differences in how those archetypes play out. You have control in the form of Blue-Black, the eventual winner; you have aggro/combo in White-Blue Heroic; Green Devotion and Sidisi Whip are both in the midrange/combo territory; and Jeskai is an aggressive tempo deck. The Abzan lists go from aggro to control, although both are very capable of playing to the board in true midrange style, and between every deck in the Top 8, just about every major archetype (aggro, control, combo, midrange) is accounted for.

Not only can you play any kind of deck you want, the matchups are all highly interactive and the games tend to be quite good. I like the sound of that, and my adventures playing Standard in the last week have been fun, so I'm very much looking forward to Memphis.

The list I like most in this Top 8, and the one I am most likely to play in Memphis (I have it narrowed down to two decks, and I'll talk about both today), is the list that Martin Juza played.

Martin Juza's Jeskai Tempo—Top 8, Grand Prix Seville

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I've been talking to Martin this week about the deck, and it has a lot of things going for it that I tend to like:

I may not get to play with these cards in Modern anymore, but nobody said anything about Standard. What Dig and Cruise do in this deck is give it a lot of late-game staying power, and given how many cheap spells and Flooded Strands this deck plays, casting Dig or Cruise for a couple mana is not difficult. At that point, you are getting a great deal on a card, and even a deck capable of aggressive starts is willing to pay two to four mana to draw this many cards. Dig and Cruise also synergize very well with the deck's sideboard, which has a ton of more controlling cards.

Regardless of which deck I end up going with this weekend, four copies of each of these cards will be in it. Goblin Rabblemaster is the best card in Standard right now, and Stoke the Flames isn't far behind. Yes, sometimes Rabblemaster gets killed before it makes a token, but sometimes it doesn't, and you are up part of a card and some damage even if your opponent kills it on his or her turn. Sometimes it doesn't die even then, and your opponent just plays a creature, at which point you remove the blocker and essentially win the game. You get to hit your opponent for at least 6 damage with two tokens and a 4/2 Rabblemaster and are set up to do the same thing the next turn. I've rarely lost when Rabblemaster lives to attack, and given that it only costs three mana, that's a very strong endorsement.

Stoke the Flames is absurd in combination with Goblin Rabblemaster, as we have seen ever since the two cards were printed. Paying four mana for Stoke isn't the worst, as it often kills cards that cost four or more, but it is typically cast for two or three mana, and it isn't that hard to get that number down to one or even zero. The classic combo of Rabblemaster, make a token, tap both to cast Stoke before attackers is a big part of why Stoke/Rabblemaster decks are so efficient, it and does double duty in clearing the opponent's board while making your tokens no longer have to attack into 2/2s.

Martin's Jeskai deck doesn't use Stoke and Rabblemaster quite as efficiently as straight Red-White, but they are still great in a deck full of cheap burn spells, Seekers of the Way, and Soulfire Grand Master.

Having a pair of hasty powerful fliers is a nice plan against almost every deck, and decks like Green Devotion have a very hard time dealing with these cards if you cast them on curve. It is a real drawback that these cards die to removal after you spent three or five mana on them, but the upside of killing the opponent rapidly is good enough that I'm willing to take that risk. I like having powerful cards in my deck, especially when I'm casting Cruises and Digs, and having those powerful cards do something immediately is very important.

This pair of sideboard cards is another big reason I want to play this deck. I really like boarding in counters against slower decks, as they work so well with the delve card-draw spells, and aggro with counters has always been great against decks trying to resolve four- and five-mana spells (not to mention ones that cost seven or more like Hornet Queen and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon).

If you are wondering how an aggressive deck can board in a bunch of counterspells (and Anger of the Gods and Elspeth), this line from Martin's ChannelFireball.com article explains it neatly:

"Sideboard was probably the best part of this deck. The trick is to board out your Goblin Rabblemasters on the draw against pretty much everything and sometimes even on the play."

He was totally on board with taking out the most-targeted card and bringing in a bunch of reactive long-game cards, and that's the kind of sideboard that appeals to me. Even if your opponent knows you have the capability to do that, he or she is in a tough spot. You can just not board out the Rabblemasters and go aggro, and if your opponent didn't bring in cheap removal, he or she will lose to such a start. The sideboarding shell game is a classic one, and one I enjoy playing, so a deck that gets to play it is understandably high on my list.

If I don't play Jeskai, the next deck on the list is probably not a big surprise, given that I said I was locked in to playing Rabblemaster and Stoke.

The other option I'm considering is straight Red-White. This was the most popular deck in Day Two, barely edging out Abzan Aggro, although it didn't place any copies into the Top 8.

RW Aggro

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This deck is a lot more streamlined and has 33% fewer colors, although sadly it has 100% fewer Treasure Cruises and Dig Through Times. It also has a few real advantages over the Jeskai deck:

This is one of the best cards in Standard, and it is worth building a mana base with tons of Mountains and Evolving Wilds. For one mana, you can kill anything and everything, which is not only intrinsically powerful but interacts incredibly well with cards like Seeker of the Way and Goblin Rabblemaster. Turn three Rabblemaster, turn four three-drop + Chained on a blocker is huge, and even just having answers to cards like Siege Rhino, Tasigur, and Anafenza is a big deal. Chained is the biggest reason to play RW, and it explains why RW was the most popular deck in Seville.

Even though this deck does lack Dig and Cruise, Outpost Siege somewhat makes up for that. The blue cards are better, and if they cost red mana I would play them in this deck in a heartbeat, but for a red card, Outpost Siege sure draws a lot of cards. Naming Khans is the play 9/10 times, if not more, although I have named Dragons when I have a ton of creatures on the board. Siege works very well in a deck full of cheap cards like Chained to the Rocks, Wild Slash, and Stoke the Flames, and once you have a Siege in play, you can even take a control role.

This card shows up in both lists, but it's much better in this one. The main reason it's in the list is as a 2/2 lifelink for two, but the other two abilities are quite relevant as well. What makes it better in RW than Jeskai is the combination of Hordeling Outburst and Stoke the Flames. Many times, I've been in a position to tap four mana, activate the Grand Master, and tap three tokens plus the Master to convoke out a (lifelinking) Stoke the Flames. "Deal 4, gain 4, draw a copy of this" is not a weak card, and it doesn't take too many free Stokes to end the game. The Jeskai deck can do this, but it takes more mana and more work, so I consider it an advantage to RW.

It may not be the most exciting reason to choose RW over Jeskai, but the fact that RW is two colors and Jeskai is three is a real bonus when it comes to mana consistency. Even with a mana base built around always having a Mountain for Chained to the Rocks, RW is going to have less mana problems than Jeskai over the course of a tournament.

What's the Pick?

If I knew the answer to that, I'd say so. I am going to play one of these two decks, and while I have to admit that I'm leaning toward casting Treasure Cruise, that is by no means a guarantee. I also want to be clear that there are plenty of great decks in Standard, and I don't think you need to play one of these decks if they aren't your style. I just happen to like these decks, and given that I don't have infinite time (or really even a lot of time), I had to choose some decks to test and I chose these. It wasn't at random; I think these decks are great, but I did purposely exclude large swathes of the format because I knew I didn't have time to cover it all.

Here are my recommendations for each of the following archetypes:

Best Control Deck: Abzan Midrange

Despite Blue-Black's success, I personally did not like how the deck played out. It's clearly a viable deck, but I found the combination of situational cards and cards that cost BB and UU to be one that didn't work for me. If you really want to play a slow control deck, by all means play Blue-Black, but I would look at an Abzan deck with a good high end (Duneblast, Hornet Queen, etc.) if I were to do such a thing.

Best Midrange Deck: Sidisi Whip

This deck is hard to classify. Is it control, combo, or midrange? I think that it's favored against the Abzan decks in general, and it plays to the board more than the slower Abzan decks, so I'm comfortable calling it the best midrange deck. Of course, Standard is full of decks that could be considered midrange in one way or another, so my point is mainly that Sidisi Whip is good against the middle of the format rather than the extremes.

Best Aggro Deck: Red-White

Even though this isn't the fastest, I like where Red-White is at (no surprise, given that I'm thinking about playing it). It's resilient, powerful, and has a lot of the best cards. Abzan Aggro is another good deck, to be sure, but I'd rather be the one casting Chains than the one getting Chained. Being efficient rocks.

Best Combo Deck: Green Devotion

With the addition of Whisperwood Elemental and Ugin, Green Devotion got some powerful new threats. Frontier Siege is a kind of interesting card in the deck too, and overall the deck is capable of more explosive games while also having Whisperwood to provide a game plan without any other help.

Best Deck That Plays Draft Commons: WU Heroic

Jokes aside, WU Heroic is good if there are too many slow green decks. I don't love it in a field full of Chained to the Rocks, Wild Slashes, and Stoke the Flames, so now may not be the time to be a hero.

A Splinter of Modern Information

The last thing I want to talk about today is what I'd play if I were attending the Modern Grand Prix in Vancouver. I watched Paul Cheon test this deck on his 24-hour stream (and even called in while he was playing it), and I liked how it was playing.

Control Splinter Twin

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Twin in a field full of Abzan may seem like a risky move, but I like that Twin is the best possible deck against just about all of the random unfair decks. It has an infinite combo that can win on turn four, a lot of counterspells to disrupt other combos, the ability to play a control game with Snapcasters and Bolts, and awesome sideboard cards like Blood Moon.

The idea with a list like this, and why I like the deck, is that you can sideboard into a pure control deck against Abzan decks. Trying to assemble the Twin combo against a deck full of Abrupt Decay, Thoughtseize, Path to Exile, and even Slaughter Pact is a fool's errand, so sideboarding out the combo makes a lot of sense.

Against Abzan, I'd cut:

4 Splinter Twin

2 Pestermite

1 Dispel


1 Harvest Pyre

2 Keranos, God of Storms

1 Vendilion Clique

1 Batterskull

2 Blood Moon

This lets you play a long game, and the combination of hard-to-kill threats, Cryptic Commands, Blood Moons, and Snapcaster Mages means that your late game is a powerful one. Blood Moon is a potent threat even if you don't side it in, so feel free to haveNegate/Dispel/Spellskite in that slot if your opponent is going out of his or her way to play around it.

I don't think the Abzan matchup is a slam dunk by any means, but it feels passable, and Twin has historically been great against many of the decks that show up in small percentages, as well as being good against Burn, Amulet, Infect, and other decks that did well at the Pro Tour. Plus, I just want an excuse to side into Keranos and Batterskull and play the deck I wanted to play in the first place. To see the deck in action, take a look at the video Paul made with the deck.

Good luck to everyone playing in a tournament this weekend, whether it's a Grand Prix or not, and hopefully I'll have good news when I report back from Memphis.


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