Posted in GRAND PRIX BALTIMORE 2015 - WELCOME on December 13, 2014

By Peter Rawlings

After a quick skim through the pool, ChannelFireball's David Ochoa began by sorting each color by its playable creatures and assessing which color combinations his nonbasic lands would best enable. "I generally try to just play whatever the best cards in my pool are, but having a strong curve can be a workaround if your pool is not great."

David Ochoa, about to face some tough decisions.

Four cards immediately caught Ochoa's attention as the best spells in the pool: Ghostfire Blade, Sagu Mauler, Trail of Mystery and Master of Pearls. The equipment is especially nice to see, because it can go into any deck thanks to its mana cost and affinity for colorless creatures, which works well with the many morphs in the set, Ochoa said.

"I want to take a look at green first," Ochoa decided, and set to work piling together cards that could fit into a potential Sultai deck centered around the beefy morphs green had on offer. In went the Icefeather Aven, the Mystic of the Hidden Way, the two Wooly Loxodon, and five Abomination of Gudul, along with the trampling, hexproof Mauler he had set aside as one of his strongest rares.

The next step was to figure out which spells would be most effective in support of the abundance of morphs in the Sultai build. Ochoa had the option of several green combat tricks in the form of two Awaken the Bear and a Dragonscale Boon, though he quickly discarded the 4-mana spell. "I'm not really a fan of Dragonscale Boon because it's more expensive." he explained. "You really want to be able to play two spells in one turn as quickly as possible, which makes Awaken the Bear a little better."

Ochoa's first build was Sultai, heavy on morphs, but light on mana-fixing.

As Ochoa made his final tweaks to the Sultai deck, four cards found themselves on the chopping block: Rakshasa Vizier, Hooting Mandrils, Roar of Challenge, and Wetland Sambar. After a brow-furrowing minute, Ochoa decided the 2-mana Elk would be best able to earn its keep, by virtue of its low casting cost. The Sambar makes for a good play on any turn except for turns three or four, he said. On turn two, it's a serviceable two-drop, and on turns five and six, it will often enable you to play two spells in a turn, getting ahead on tempo, he said.

The other three cards hit the bench. "I wouldn't want to run the Vizier without the Mandrils," he said, while the sorcery-speed Roar is often better coming out of the sideboard. "It's one of those cards that is match-up dependent, since it will be good against the green decks, and not as good against the blue or Jeskai decks with Crippling Chill, Force Away and Smite the Monstrous," he said. "Once I've identified the role I'll be playing in the matchup, I'm more happy to play Roar."

David Ochoa

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Next up, was a similar Blue-Green-based build, but one turning its back on black and venturing instead to the Temur frontier. The main asset of this deck was that the mana base improved considerably, Ochoa said. Where the Sultai deck had but one piece of mana fixing in the form of Dismal Backwater, the Temur deck had access to three copies of Rugged Highlands and a Mystic Monastery.

"This deck ultimately doesn't look as good as the other deck," Ochoa concluded, fiddling with the several copies of Bring Low to which the wedge had access. "This build is going to have a problem with 5-toughness creatures," he said. The creature base in Temur was also considerably weaker, he added, referring to the five 3/4 flying Horrors he would no longer be able to play.

The Temur deck had solid mana, but difficulty dealing with larger creatures.

With that, he swept up the cards, deciding to stray from the Trail of Mystery with a third and final build, opting to embrace the Jeskai way.

One of the main features of the Jeskai build was its low-slung mana curve, Ochoa said, with multiple Jeskai Students able to chip in for a bit of damage and hold off any early assaults. The deck also had access to eight or nine removal spells, depending on the final build he added.

As Ochoa winnowed the deck down to its final cuts he was forced to choose between playing Bring Low or Smite the Monstrous, ultimate choosing the Smite. "Arrow Storm, Master the Way, Arc Lightning and Mardu Heart-Piercer already deal with small creatures pretty well, and Jeskai student helps there too," he said. The Jeskai deck's creature base would be trumped by the larger creatures other wedges could send into battle, he said, so cards like Smite, as well as Suspension Field, would be important to enable him to punch through.

Jeskai offered a low curve and a plethora of removal, but its small creatures could be easily dwarfed by those in other wedges.

The downside to Jeskai, as with Sultai, was that there was but a single nonbasic land—in this case a Mystic Monastery—to help fix his mana. We need white mana on turn two every single game, Ochoa said, which ideally meant nine sources of white. After jiggering and rejiggering his Plains, Islands and Mountains he decided he would have to settle for eight.

David Ochoa

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In the end, the Sultai and Jeskai decks were extremely close, making it tough to choose between them. "The green creatures are very strong, since they just outclass other creatures," he said, "but on the other hand, the Jeskai deck's curve starts at two, which is very nice."

In the end he decided he would start with the Jeskai deck, prioritizing mana curve over creature size—with the option of sideboarding into the Sultai deck when appropriate. "I could see switching into Sultai against any deck that's not Red-White, or whenever I'm playing against Forests," he said.

"However, I'm probably very biased," Ochoa added dryly. "I've played Jeskai in every tournament—both constructed and limited formats—for the last six months."