PACKING THE MAGIC SUITCASE

Posted in GRAND PRIX SANTIAGO 2014 - COVERAGE - EVENTS on November 1, 2014

By Rich Hagon

Rich Hagon combines a deep knowledge of the players of the Pro Tour with a passionate love of the game. He's a regular commentator for Pro Tour and Grand Prix live video coverage, and is the official Pro Tour Statistician. He has been covering Magic events since 2006.

Over the last few weeks, my Facebook feed has been full of players cataloging their assorted travels. Orlando, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Stockholm, Chile...one of the less obvious skillsets of the global Magic Pro is the ability to travel well, and often. Like anyone trying to pack their functional lives into a single suitcase, players have to juggle all the utterly mundane items that are so easily forgotten (toothbrush, plasters, deodorant, socks?) with the ones that are heart-stoppingly terrible if you somehow manage to start your travel without them (passport, money, Taylor Swift's new album). Magic players have one added layer of complexity over the regular population, and that's encapsulated in the word Constructed. See, cards – at least the versions that aren't on Magic Online – have an actual, real-world weight to them. Airlines don't like heavy luggage, and they discourage this by super-expensive penalties for suitcases that don't fit the bill.

And yet, you are about to travel to three continents to play Standard, you're not going home in between, you don't know what the Standard metagame looks like, and you have only a very little room left in your precious suitcase. So, when you're sitting at home, desperately making lists of all the things you forgot last time that you need to remember this time, what cards need to be with you? Thankfully, Standard has only five sets in it right now – Theros, Born of the Gods, Journey into Nyx, Magic 2015, and Khans of Tarkir. Now that we have information from the Pro Tour in Honolulu, plus Standard Grand Prix in Los Angeles and Stockholm, what should the perfect MTG suitcase contain for players coming to Chile this weekend? Let's wade through the cupboards, and see which cards are coming to South America...

Theros

White – Chained to the Rocks is getting played a bunch. Almost any Planeswalker makes the cut, so that means Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Glare of Heresy is a useful Sideboard card. Then there's stuff for the Blue-White Heroic deck. Do we really want to be bringing cards like Ordeal of Heliod, Favored Hoplite, and Gods Willing? I'm not sure we do, unless we're being super-completist. To my surprise, it looks like I won't be needing Soldier of the Pantheon, which was a real Standard staple.

Blue – Dissolve is an easy choice. Prognostic Sphinx belongs in Blue-Black Control. I don't feel we need to look at old school Blue Devotion, so Master of Waves and Thassa, God of the Sea both get to stay home.

Black – A few months ago, both Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Hero's Downfall would have been packing their bags automatically. Now, it's just the Downfall that needs the sunscreen. Pharika's Cure has been showing up in some Sideboards, and so has Read the Bones. Then there's Thoughtseize, and Whip of Erebos, both of which are major players right now.

Red – Akroan Crusader now has a home in Standard, while Anger of the Gods has always been real. Proving that cheap is often good, Coordinated Assault needs a space, as does Dragon Mantle. Burn spells Lightning Strike and Magma Jet are certainties, as are Titan's Strength and Stormbreath Dragon. Theros Red has a lot going on.

Green – Arbor Colossus has been showing up in small numbers. Brian Kibler popularized Boon Satyr. Commune with the Gods has been consistently filling graveyards in recent weeks. Then there's devotion stuff, like Nylea, God of the Hunt, and Nylea's Disciple. Polukranos, World Eater is still huge, and mana accelerators Sylvan Caryatid and Voyaging Satyr continue to power out threats.

Gold – I guess we could bring Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. Destructive Revelry is seeing Sideboard play. Fleecemane Lion hasn't seen a ton of play, but is still very good. If we want to go deep (like Mikael Magnusson in Stockholm) we want to take Steam Augury too. As for Xenagos, the Reveler, it's hard to imagine leaving any Planeswalker back at home.

Land – And this is where we get punished on weight. Do we want Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx? Yes. And all five Temples? Sure. That's 24 cards right there. Ho hum.

So, with one set down and four to go, we're committing to something like 37 cards. That doesn't sound like a lot, but multiply it by four and we have 148 cards – that's already two complete decks plus sideboards. And we still have four sets to go. Fortunately, though, the next one up is Born of the Gods, and I'm not sure we're going to find huge pressure on our suitcase. Let's see:

Brimaz, King of Oreskos is the only White card we need on the plane. I suppose we could take possibly-useful things like Divination and Nullify, and if we're thinking about Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, we'll be needing Retraction Helix. Black gives us mass removal of sorts in both Bile Blight (don't forget to kill your own Sylvan Caryatid so that you can kill theirs!) and Drown in Sorrow. Herald of Torment has also been showing up. Scouring Sands is also a marginal card, while Red also gives us the rock-solid Searing Blood. Green brings us arguably the most influential card in Standard – Courser of Kruphix – and we also need room for Satyr Wayfinder and Unravel the Æther, which is popular in Sideboards. None of the Gods make it in, but the unlikely Astral Cornucopia does, for the Ascendancy Combo deck. Finally, we have the Temples, and four more copies of each.

Actually, Born of the Gods had more goodies than I was expecting. 14 cards, or 56 total, bringing our total to 204. Let's finish off the block with Journey into Nyx:

White gets us going with Banishing Light and Nyx-Fleece Ram. We could also make the case for Deicide, as there are a lot of nasty Enchantments running around in Standard. What I can't make a case for is any Blue cards – there just aren't any worth the space. Black has Brain Maggot, and it also has one of the massive players in the format, Doomwake Giant. Red has some Sideboard options – Blinding Flare gets Strive into Standard, while Eidolon of the Great Revel really isn't taking prisoners. Magma Spray makes the cut, and then we have another choice over the incredibly niche Riddle of Lightning, which does quite naughty things with Dig through Time. If we're taking Doomwake Giant, we're certainly taking another key component of that deck, Eidolon of Blossoms.

Once we're into the Gold cards, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes gets to come, and the Gods get a look in here, with Keranos, God of Storms, Pharika, God of Affliction, and Kruphix, God of Horizons all justifying their place. A new addition might be Nyx Weaver, which certainly wasn't a big deal at the start of the Standard season, but is starting to see more play now. Once again, the lands are automatic includes, with four Mana Confluence to go with the remaining temples.

That's 16 different cards, or 64 total, bringing our overall suitcase to 268. Now I'm getting nervous, because although we've packed three sets away and only have two more to sift through, I have a feeling they're going to be huge. First, Magic 2015:

Maybe I shouldn't have worried. White has Ajani Steadfast and I've-seen-a-list-with-it-somewhere Soul of Theros. It's a strange world where Jace, the Living Guildpact doesn't get in, and Jorubai Murk Lurker does, but that's where we are, while Negate is always going to make it into any MTG suitcase. Liliana Vess and Soul of Innistrad are the contributions from Black. Chandra, Pyromaster sees play mostly out of Sideboards, proving that the best class of permanents don't always make the best decks. After all, both Foundry Street Denizen and Frenzied Goblin are making their mark all over game one. You also get Hammerhand from Red, and, of course, one of the biggest players in the format, Goblin Rabblemaster. There's also spot-on removal in Stoke the Flames. That's a major contribution from Red.

As for Green, this might be the weekend when we see Back to Nature seeing some play. Elvish Mystic is a format staple, as is Hornet Queen. Hornet Nest isn't as popular, but is still in some Sideboards. Nissa, Worldwaker also gets a spot, and we're starting to see Reclamation Sage appearing. Also getting a mention is an Artifact, which might be the first time we've needed one – it's Perilous Vault, central to the Blue-Black control plan played by Owen Turtenwald in Honolulu and Los Angeles. We round the set out with all the pain lands – Battlefield Forge, Caves of Koilos, Llanowar Wastes, Shivan Reef, Yavimaya Coast, and the extremely useful Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

Huh. I guess it did gather momentum once we were passed White. There are 26 cards there, or 104 total, bringing us up to 372. That's almost exactly the equivalent of five entire decks plus sideboard, and we still have one set to go. Here comes the avalanche of goodies from Khans of Tarkir:

We start with End Hostilities. I just can't bring myself to leave the format Wrath of God at home. Then there's Erase, Seeker of the Way, Suspension Field, and the totally awesome (though not utterly dominant) Wingmate Roc. Dig Through Time starts us off in Blue, followed by Disdainful Stroke. As a finisher, Pearl Lake Ancient is very tough to beat. In Black, Murderous Cut does indeed make the cut, but that's all. Red gives us Ashcloud Phoenix, and the Temur-aligned Crater's Claws. Mono-Red also gets Hordeling Outburst (which from Spanish translates as 'Attack of the Mini-Horde!), and Monastery Swiftspear, plus the poster Planeswalker, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. In Green, we have Heir of the Wild, Rattleclaw Mystic, and See the Unwritten.

Unsurprisingly, this isn't where the true strength of Khans lies. For that we want Gold, and the Clans. There are close to twenty cards that we should add to our burgeoning travel pile – In Abzan, there's the Abzan Charm, plus Anafenza, the Foremost, and Siege Rhino. Jeskai has the charm (they all do), plus Mantis Rider and Jeskai Ascendancy (if we think that's worth persevering with). Butcher of the Horde and Crackling Doom are the stars for Mardu, while Savage Knuckleblade is the Temur standout. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant headlines for the Sultai, with a nod to Villainous Wealth. Then there are the two-color cards, like Rakshasa Deathdealer, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Utter End, and Sagu Mauler.

Phew, we're done! Oh wait – lands! Nightmare! That's 10 common lands, 10 uncommon lands, and 5 rare lands, and we want them all. That's 100 cards right there. In total, there are 60 Khans of Tarkir cards we want in our Magic suitcase, and that means 240 total cards, giving us a grand total of 612.

So how does it all shape up?

600 cards is the equivalent of eight complete decks with sideboard. That's oddly comforting, since we could certainly imagine building a version of eight decks, something like:

Jeskai Ascendancy Combo Jeskai
Mardu Midrange
Sidisi-Whip
Blue-Black Control
Boss Sligh
Abzan Control
Temur Monsters

There's no doubt that this lot is going to be heavy, and of course we're never going to play most of them. However, we'll travel happier knowing that we have access to everything we need for this week's Standard. So, next time you've got a month of travel across three continents ahead of you, don't forget to pack your Magicsuitcase!