THE "OTHER" CLANS

Posted in GRAND PRIX LOS ANGELES 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on October 19, 2014

By Marc Calderaro

Coming off Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, there was no doubt that Jeskai and Abzan were the clans to beat. Mantis Rider and Siege Rhino have proved to be current pillars of the format. When asking why to play the deck, "Because you don't really have a bad match-up," or "Because the cards are just so good," are common replies. But I think there's also a different part of the equation: The decks are known. There are other overtly powerful cards that are just as good, or that could have just as solid matchups that have yet to make their mark. But some players here today are ahead of the curve—and are using those cards to make serious dents in their opponents and the metagame.

As Hall of Fame member Brian Kibler said, players played Abzan and Jeskai because they "knew the decks were safe." Abzan is a morphed version of a Block deck, and Jeskai had a coming out performance at and SCG Open before the Pro Tour. It's not necessarily because the decks are better, but known. Patrick Dickmann told me that some cards "need solid shells to be good."

Brian Kibler

 

Cards like Savage Knuckleblade, Butcher of the Horde, and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (all from the underrepresented clans of Temur, Mardu, and Sultai respectively) are making very impressive showings on the first day of Grand Prix Los Angeles, and I sat down with the pilots steering them to see what led them to buck the trends and play the lesser-respected clans.

 

Brian Kibler, to the surprise of few, is on Temur Aggro. Featuring standouts like Savage Knuckleblade and Crater's Claws—cards that everyone knows are very strong—Kibler's Temur Aggro is very strong, but a counterintuitive build.

"When you start building a Temur deck, you want to jam in a bunch of ramp and big guys," but Kibler's deck is different, and he feels it's better for it. "Temur Charm is your standout card and you want to be using it to counter people's spells." If you're tapping out on turns two through six like a ramp deck does, you don't have the mana open to do anything on the opponent's turns. "Building it with that in mind, led to me more spells that can be cast as instants, like Boon Satyr." Kibler's deck plays out much more like, stick a big threat and protect it to the finish line.

"And Stubborn Denial is great here. So many decks in the format play expensive spells—like three mana and up. Getting them for one mana is great."

It's easy to see why such a hybrid-style deck wouldn't be configured perfectly in the first couple weeks. But how do you know it's configured well enough now. When asked if the deck is anywhere close to optimal yet, Kibler said, "I wouldn't have played it at the Pro Tour if it wasn't good. I have two different types of decks for the Grand Prix and the Pro Tour," and though Kibler admitted his deck certainly isn't optimal, it's real good.

He's currently sitting 8-0, already clinched for Day Two. Yeah, it's pretty good.

On the Mardu plan, Brad Nelson, Patrick Dickmann, and Valentin Mackl are all on the same crazy little Mardu Midrange deck, and their combined win-loss record going into Round 8 was 23-1 (14-1 if you don't count byes). The deck's not "crazy" in the sense of wacky, but it's crazy because people hadn't been building their Mardu quite like it yet.

Valentin Mackl, Brad Nelson, and Patrick Dickmann(left to right)

 

In the Round 6 feature match, Fabrizio Anteri misread the deck as playing both Raise the Alarm and Stoke the Flames. Because the versions of the Mardu deck his team had brewed played them, he assumed the "correct" Mardu deck would also. But this team went another way.

 

"I think all the White-Red variants play very similarly," Dickmann said. And it shows, as the deck plays a lot like the Jeskai decks. It uses early creatures to plink through as great removal—like Chained to the Rocks, and Crackling Doom—clears the way. Or the reverse, as Nelson says, "Kill everything, then stick a threat."

"Crackling Doom is amazing," Nelson said. "It always hits their best guy, and you might catch a Planeswalker too."

The deck runs Sorin, Solemn Visitor that had been getting some slack coming into the Pro Tour, but has really proven its worth here, especially as a token producer. The tokens in the deck are very, very important. "You're just trying to end your turn with a threat, and them without one. They can't completely clean up your board," and Nelson continued, "it just snowballs from there."

The big, ominous Butcher of the Horde is perfectly at home here. Ever since he was spoiled people saw his raw power, but it needed the right mix of spells around it. Here, you don't have infinite tokens, but you have just enough. The team thinks the best aspect of the Butcher is how well he gobbles up Planeswalker. "There are many Planeswalkers that tick up to five. Butcher kills them. Butcher kills Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Elspeth kills Stormbreath Dragon." Watching games where a Seeker of the Way turns into a surprise hasty five-power flyer, it's easy to see how well it can catch undefended Planeswalkers.

Nelson, at 7-0, said "I still don't know if the deck's any good." But he's just underselling it for the cameras. Butcher of the Horde may have found its first solid home.

Speaking of solid home, Grand Prix Orlando winner Eugune Hwang has started in the King of the Hill feature match, and is yet to leave it, playing Sidisi Whip. We're going to name it after him pretty soon. Like Kibler's Temur Aggro, this deck also showed up at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, but today it's shining stronger than at any point during the weekend in Hawaii. Harnessing the power of Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and Whip of Erebos, Hwang played the deck because of how it fairs against Jeskai and Abzan, and it's yet to disappoint.

Eugene Hwang

 

"I've got the match-ups I've wanted to; and they've played out how I've wanted them too." When asked how the Jeskai and Abzan matches go, he points to the Whip of Erebos. "The first line of text, 'lifelink' kills Jeskai; the last line of text, 'returning creatures' out-grinds Abzan."

 

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is a creature people have been brewing with since the first second they could. Reporter Brian David-Marshall was so excited about the card, he was scrambling all over the Pro Tour to find the best performing Sidisi-based decks just to see what other people had come up with. As I write this, Hwang is still undefeated, and still King of the Hill. This deck's pretty good too.

When people showed up to Grand Prix Los Angeles, only two clans were on their minds. But these players are showing that not only do the other clans exist, but they could even be the future of Standard. We're only just passed the halfway mark before the Top 8, but already the unsung clans are roaring the loudest. Temur, Mardu, and Sultai should now be on more players' minds—thanks to Savage Knuckleblade, Butcher of the Horde, and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant. Not to mention some innovative deck builders, and some strong players.