Round 11 Feature Match: Phillip Cross (Red-Green Devotion) vs. Andrew Baeckstrom (Red-Green Devotion)

Posted in GRAND PRIX MEMPHIS 2015 on February 22, 2015

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Andrew Baeckstrom had made the most of his recent travels. As part of the potent United States team in the World Magic Cup, Baeckstrom worked hard to level up his skill, taking cues from . With one Top 8 at Grand Prix Louisville in 2013, Beackstrom was looking to earn his second, and continue riding his wave of strong play.

Phillip Cross isn't a renown champion, at least not yet. With some success on the StarCityGames Open Series, including a strong finish a few weeks at in Washington, D.C., Cross was traveling with other players finding similar success, including Logan Mize who happened to have found a feature match at the same time.

Holding steady to avoid another loss would keep Top 8 plans alive for either player, and with the decks that brought it was an exciting prospect.

The Decks

Both players wielded Red-Green Devotion, the deck full of monsters like Genesis Hydra and Polukranos, World Eater. While both sides had their own flavors, Baeckstrom broke down the rationale for bringing it this weekend.

“When I was testing and looking at what was going on I was pretty surprised by the diversity of decks. The first instinct is to ask yourself ‘What's the most powerful thing you can do?' Green devotion seemed like that,” Baeckstrom explained. “The second thing I asked was ‘Are there cards showing up in sideboards that make me want to now play green devotion?' and that's Wraths. The reason devotion fell off is because Black-Green Constellation had Doomwake Giants and the White-Red Aggro decks would have End Hostilities in the sideboard. That's gone away for the most part.”

Choosing to play the deck was as simple as copy and past. “The toughest option coming in for this weekend was which of the five options to go with: Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; Nissa, Worldwaker; Genesis Hydra; Hornet Queen; and Shamanic Revelation,” Baeckstrom continued. “I liked the Genesis Hydra and Hornet Queen package the best. I tested Ugin and it's really not exciting to reset the board against a lot of decks. Genesis Hydra is probably a little weaker than some of the other options from a goldfishing perspective, but when you play against someone with a bunch of removal it's one of the best things you can do.” The abundance of Abzan meant there was plenty of removal to go around all weekend.

What gives devotion decks a pause? “Goblin Rabblemaster decks can sometimes be a problem, but that's every deck,” Baeckstrom laughed. “You really don't want to play against control. There are ways to build the deck to be better against control – Shaman of the Great Hunt is a good option – but they make your weaker to aggro decks than I'd prefer.”

“The mirror's pretty fun!” Baeckstrom said. “Xenagos is very strong in the mirror: It's very hard to kill it. It's like having a second Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in play which you can't normally do. If I have Voyaging Satyr, Nykthos, and Xenagos going it's probably good enough.”

“The best part about testing green devotion is you really don't need a partner that much: Set up at a table and start goldfishing the deck,” Baeckstrom said, referring to playing the deck against an imaginary opponent that just does nothing the entire game. “You want to be comfortable with the math and dexterity of manipulating cards in play. You need to be good at that because once you add an opponent into the mix it's going to get tough.”

Playing your own deck well is more important than just what moving pieces may sound. “When I was in Nice and hanging out with Owen Turtenwald and William Jensen testing for the World Magic Cup, it was interesting to see how much time they spent goldfishing their decks,” Baeckstrom explained. “Just increasing the number of hands they saw and comfort with their decks, and they could do it really fast. Those are two guys that have been playing Magic forever and it's clearly and important skill.”

The Games

Voyaging Satyr and Rattleclaw Mystic were a fast start for Cross, who powered out a 4/4 Genesis Hydra into Xenagos, the Reveler. Baeckstrom responded with a turn four Polukranos, World Eater.

All the things, all the time: The mirror match of monsters was underway.

Polukranos crashed into a Satyr token and 4/4 Hydra, and Cross began building his army from there as Baeckstrom didn't have another monster to follow up with. From 14 to 8 to 2 life, Baeckrom was swarmed my Cross's Satyrs. Facing down Whisperwood Elemental as well was enough for Baeckstrom to move on to the second game.

“I'd say the mirror comes down to Xenagos beatdown very often,” Baeckstrom said. Cross agreed as he flipped through his sideboard.

Andrew Baeckstrom looked to put his world-class practice to work in Memphis.

The second game was another run of Voyaging Satyrs for both sides, though Baeckstrom broke out some removal for Cross's early mana ramping. Baeckstrom, going first, had the edge in production first, and used it for Whisperwood Elemental.

Cross found one of his own, however, and used Hunt the Hunter to clear one away and Crater's Claws on the manifest next to it: Thanks to Courser of Kruphix, Cross knew it was a second Whisperwood Elemental waiting for Baeckstrom face down.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx pumped out enough green mana for Baeckstrom to play Genesis Hydra to pull out Polukranos, World Eater, then play Outpost Siege set to Khans. In a flash of mana, Baeckstrom was right back in it. Making mana and digging deeper with Shaman of the Great Hunt, Cross didn't find what he needed to handle the Polukranos about to annihilate his side of the battlefield.

The third game was similar to the first two, with mana-makers arriving early on both sides. Cross used a tiny Genesis Hydra to find another mana maker as Baeckstrom played Whisperwod Elemental and Polukranos, World Eater.

Trading haymakers back and forth, Cross found a much larger Genesis Hydra to take a commanding lead on mana: Baeckstrom was still stuck on just two lands, though Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx kept him in it by giving him a second Whisperwood Elemental.

Phillip Cross was looking for the breakthrough his opponent Baeckstrom had in Louisville two years before.

Shaman of the Great Hunt was Cross's next move, followed by Xenagos, the Reveler. With nine creatures in play, Cross went off with Xenagos's first ability: Polukranos, World Eater, drawing cards, and making monstrous by putting thirteen +1/+1 counters on his legendary Hydra.

Baeckstrom had an army of face down manifest creatures, but the writing was on the wall when his ways to generate extra mana were eaten.

“I might have been in this game if I drew red mana. I had a Xenagos for awhile and I had a hand that could start casting two spells a turn,” Baeckstrom said. “I just never got to the point.”

Phillip Cross defeated Andrew Baeckstrom, 2-1.

Red-Green Devotion – Andrew Baeckstrom

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Red-Green Devotion - Phillip Cross

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