TWO-BOX STANDARD

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.

Last week, at Grand Prix Stockholm, Team Coverage heard a story. It was a good story, and we kept hearing it. There was this player, and he was playing in his first GP. He was playing in his first Standard tournament, period. He was at 10-2. He had no cards, so opened up two boxes of Khans of Tarkir, and built the best deck he could from that collection. And he was 10-2.

Magicplayers love a good story, so it's probably not a surprise to you that, after a spot of Woodward-esque investigative journalism, all wasn't quite as it first seemed. For one thing, although this was indeed his first Standard tournament, he was no stranger to tournament MTG, and was, in fact, widely regarded as one of Sweden's finest Legacy players. Second, he did have some cards for Standard, just not a lot of them, and he filled in the blanks with the best he could find from two Khans boxes.

That's still a fine story, and he nearly made the Top 8. But with thirty three hours of travel between my house and Grand Prix Santiago, I started wondering, 'What if it had been true? All of it?'. Could you possibly build a competitive Standard deck from just 72 boosters of Khans of Tarkir? Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about a 7-2 make Day Two deck, just something that you could sit down with and feel you weren't 100% to lose.

That's when I spotted two unopened Khans displays in the corner of my office. Guess we'd better try the experiment then...

And so it came to pass that Hagon, worn down by the rigors of Manchester Airport, did spend seven hours on a flight to Chicago, cataloguing 72 boosters, and making customarily pithy notes on each:

B1 - Wooded Foothills is great, but I don't imagine mana is going to be my problem. Then there's Treasure Cruise, Hordeling Outburst, Murderous Cut.

B2 - Can't see Trail of Mystery being a thing. Scout the Borders and Sultai Scavenger for Delve, Jeskai Student for some horrible aggro deck.

B3 - An exciting mythic in Pearl Lake Ancient. Sultai Charm is the only other serious card, then things like Valley Dasher and a second Jeskai Student.

B4 - I like Clever Impersonator, because it could be Siege Rhino. Heir of the Wilds is real. I wonder if I can do something grindy with Archers' Parapet?

B5 - Thrilled as I am to see Jeskai Ascendancy, I believe I may be shy of the complete combo. Just a hunch. Maybe Mardu Hateblade is the first card for my BW Warrior deck.

B6 - The only card in Standard is Anafenza, but she's awesome. I can imagine Kill Shot in some UW Control list, but I have a very active imagination.

B7 - Another fetch, plus Arc Lightning. Not sure how many burn spells I'm going to find for red decks.

B8 - Half a dozen cards of interest - Highspire Mantis might be my Mantis Rider. Burn Away to kill Siege Rhino and nail their graveyard? Boo-ya. Possibly.

B9 - Just a couple of Sideboard-ish cards - Erase, and Stubborn Denial, which could be main.

B10 - Utter End could make it, but not much else.

B11 - It costs a ton, but Duneblast certainly does something. First Disdainful Stroke, which I might need four of.

B12 - Chief of the Scale for Warriors, and a Jeskai Charm. Maybe Barrage of Boulders makes the Sideboard against Abzan.

B13 - Only Monastery Swiftspear is in actual decks. Mardu Hordechief for Warriors?

B14 - A second Seeker of the Way is about it here, unless there's some weird Goblinslide/Trumpet Blast deck waiting to happen.

B15 - A morph I can actually imagine playing, Jeering Instigator. Nobody will suspect four Act of Treason and the Instigator!

B16 - Goblinslide/Trumpet Blast gets Master of Pearls, which is the only marginally playable card in the booster.

B17 - Nothing in current Standard, just a Trumpet Blast and a Cancel. Ivorytusk Fortress is awesome, but not for Standard.

B18 - A nice Bloodstained Mire for the collection, but all I can say here is that Raiders' Spoils probably won't be in the Warriors deck I won't be building.

B19 - Nice, a Sagu Mauler.

B20 - Might need the Sultai Scavenger for a Sultai deck, and would certainly want Monastery Swiftspear number 2 in any aggro deck.

B21 - Altar of the Brood! The Jeskai Ascendancy dream is still...dead. What about this Quiet Contemplation? I'll think about it. Quietly.

B22 - A second Jeering Instigator, and, more realistically, an Abzan Charm.

B23 - Useful to get another Stubborn Denial. Herald of Anafenza adds another 1-drop to Warriors, and might even be good. ('Good' being a relative term.)

B24 - A really nice rare in Rakshasa Deathdealer. Then there's another Raiders' Spoils. OK, I probably will end up building it.

B25 - It's my favorite card in the set, Mindswipe, plus Mantis Rider wannabe Highspire Mantis, and another Hordeling Outburst.

B26 - Well hello mythic rare. It's Wingmate Roc. Yum.

B27 - Two in a row for playable awesomeness, with Crater's Claws.

B28 - That was a very busy booster - Trumpet Blast, Disdainful Stroke, Arc Lightning, Jeskai Charm, Murderous Cut, Abzan Ascendancy.

B29 - I now have two copies of Icy Blast. Can't possibly be any good, can it? Added another Arc Lightning, and a first Suspension Field.

B30 - Winterflame at uncommon, and now a second Duneblast. Abzan Control?

B31 - So, there's a second Abzan Ascendancy here, and then, to top it off, a foil Sultai Ascendancy. Huh.

B32 - Dear Box, I will not build a Secret Plans deck, however many you make me open. Thanks, Rich. Also, I've never seen Trap Essence before today. I'm so blessed.

B33 - Although Windswept Heath is nice, an uncommon trio of Take Up Arms, Blinding Spray, and Frontier Bivouac underlines the challenge ahead.

B34 - A second Winterflame, and a second Mindswipe. Did I mention Mindswipe is my favorite card in Khans?

B35 - Aside from a more-than-4th Naturalize, this is the first booster with literally nothing I can ever imagine playing. And that's saying quite a bit.

B36 - And booster box one ends up with a second Rakshasa Deathdealer! Two more in the next box please!

So where are we? Red-Blue Mindswipe. Abzan Control. Abzan Aggro. Abzan Ascendancy. Sultai. Warriors. Red Tokens/Trumpet Blast. Red-White Aggro.I would say, 'So many decks, so little time', but it's still almost 27 hours to Santiago. Let's see what booster box number two gets us:

B37 - New box, first out, it's Dig Through Time. Apparently that's a real card boys and girls. Also here, another Monastery Swiftspear.

B38 - That's the set of Monastery Swiftspear complete, and then an exciting rare in Butcher of the Horde.

B39 - Foil rare Sage of the Inward Eye doesn't have a home, but both Crater's Claws and Mardu Charm do. Yippee.

B40 - A third Avalanche Tusker isn't what we're looking for. There's a second Quiet Contemplation, and Death Frenzy is now available as a full set.

B41 - I doubt Temur is where we're headed, but Rattleclaw Mystic might get in anyway. Also an Abzan Charm, which I think completes the set?

B42 - In the real world, Deflecting Palm is a 'don't be silly'. Here, it's a 'maybe'. Ye Gods.

B43 - Not sure where the other three are coming from, but heres's Sidisi, Brood Tyrant.

B44 - Obviously there's less to see as we continue on. No uncommons of note, but the rare is super-nice, a third Crater's Claws.

B45 - A second Suspension Field, and Warriors gets another Chief of the Edge.

B46 - A straight-up whiff. Gurmag Swiftwing, Sultai Soothsayer, Meandering Towershell? Nah.

B47 - Completing the Raiders' Spoils collection. Also, Treasure Cruise, which I don't think is a 4-of yet.

B48 - And that's the Treasure Cruises done. Also, a second Sultai Ascendancy. One more would be nice, two would be greedy.

B49 - A useful Hordeling Outburst, but I don't imagine Narset, Enlightened Master will even make it in a super-speculative list.

B50 - It's another Ascendancy, but it's Jeskai, and I still don't see how that can do anything for us.

B51 - Winterflame might find a home, and Windswept Heath is, you know, Windswept Heath.

B52 - An excellent second copy of Butcher of the Horde, in case we go Mardu.

B53 - Not sure how many Dead Drop we might want, but if we don't open them we can't play them. Rare - Necropolis Fiend. Nice.

B54 - Now this is a big one, at the halfway point in box two. Duneblast number three is really making me think about trying Abzan Mid/Control.

B55 - Pretty sure I'm filled up on Murderous Cut and Hordeling Outburst. Suspect the Cut may be the one making the, er, cut. No outbursts please.

B56 - There's a useful Heir of the Wilds, but I'm starting to think this third Icy Blast might belong somewhere. (Who said 'your trade binder'?)

B57 - I don't believe mono black aggro is a thing, and one Bloodsoaked Champion isn't going to change my mind.

B58 - Weirdly, I think this might be the first Mystic Monastery I've opened. The rare is Crackling Doom, which is eminently usable.

B59 - Nothing here, although I'm starting to wonder whether some of my potential decks might want Singing Bell Strike.

B60 - Another Chief of the Scale, and a foil Mystic Monastery to make up for not seeing many. Which is obviously how the world works.

B61 - I suppose I just might put Ankle Shanker into a mardu deck. Ooooo, I'm squinting horribly as I type that. Ankle Shanker? Really Rich?

B62 - Either what I said a moment ago was nonsense, or I just wasted another rare. Hi, second consecutive Ankle Shanker. Sigh.

B63 - Random uncommons we haven't seen before continue to crop up. This time it's Abzan Battle Priest, which I think is our first.

B64 - Wow. Arc Lightning, Jeskai Charm, and Murderous Cut at uncommon, and then the mythic Hooded Hydra, which might be a finisher in an Abzan deck.

B65 - When Constructed is the aim, and there's a foil in the pack, I'm miserable when it's a Swamp, like now. At least there's a Seeker of the Way.

B66 - If they make a Mantis Rider on turn 3, and I make a Mardu Blazebringer, aren't I winning? In other news, a Sultai Charm, and Grim Haruspex.

B67 - With time running out, nice rares are nice. Sagu Mauler? Check. Foil Crackling Doom? Check.

B68 - If Dragon-Style Twins is in the deck, it shouldn't be a deck, not for Standard.

B69 - Nope, nothing to see. Moving on, with three packs to go.

B70 - A welcome Chief of the Edge for the Warrior non-deck, and an intriguing Empty the Pits. Let's face it, if I end up black, I'm going to play it.

B71 - And a third Mindswipe, which is (sing it) my favorite card in Khans of Tarkir .

B72 - We close with another Chief of the Scale, a Dig Through Time, and a foil....Swamp.

So now there's a hefty pile of booster wrappers, a ton of unplayable strictly-Limited fodder, and a still optimistically-large collection of cards that just might make it into a deck if you squint carefully at them. Before we look at some putative builds, it's worth remembering how hard a task we've set ourselves. I went to a reputable website (other websites are available) that specialise in number crunching Magic Online data for consumption by the masses. Just how many of their '50 Most Played Cards in Standard' do we have access to? Oh, and by 'access to' I mean, 'Could theoretically have opened?'

1-10

Yes: Siege Rhino, Abzan Charm.

No: Thoughtseize, Courser of Kruphix, Sylvan Caryatid, Hero's Downfall, Bile Blight, Lightning Strike, Drown in Sorrow, Stoke the Flames.

Rollcall: We have 0 Siege Rhino, and 4 Abzan Charm.

11-20

Yes: Seeker of the Way, Disdainful Stroke, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Dig Through Time, Wingmate Roc.

No: Goblin Rabblemaster, Elvish Mystic, Elspeth, Sun's Champion, Magma Jet, Fleecemane Lion.

Rollcall: 3 Seeker of the Way, 4 Disdainful Stroke, 0 Sorin, Solemn Visitor, 2 Dig Through Time, 1 Wingmate Roc.

21-30

Yes: Mantis Rider, Jeskai Charm, Murderous Cut, Monastery Swiftspear.

No: Negate, Polukranos, World Eater, Magma Spray, Nissa, Worldwaker, Dissolve, Anger of the Gods.

Rollcall: 0 Mantis Rider, 4 Jeskai Charm, 4 Murderous Cut, 4 Monastery Swiftspear.

31-40

Yes: End Hostilities, Utter End, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, Erase.

No: Searing Blood, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, Akroan Crusader, Titan's Strength, Dragon Mantle, Nylea's Disciple.

Rollcall: 0 End Hostilities, 1 Utter End, 0 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, 4 Erase.

41-50

Yes: Suspension Field, Rakshasa Deathdealer

No: Hornet Queen, Foundry Street Denizen, Hammerhand, Genesis Hydra, Herald of Torment, Firedrinker Satyr, Voyaging Satyr, Eidolon of Blossoms

Rollcall: 2 Suspension Field, 2 Rakshasa Deathdealer

ZERO

ZIP

NADA

ZILCH

In a beautifully-stocked trade binder, we would have four copies of everything in this Top 50. That's 200 prime cards. We have 35 of those 200 to build our decks, and the pattern applies right the way down to the cheesiest commons – if it ain't in Khans, it ain't in our deckbuilding sandbox. Still, that's the challenge, so it's time to actually put all this hard work to use. Let's start off with this steaming pile of Blue-Red Counter-Burn:

Blue-Red Counter-Burn

Download Arena Decklist

Oooh. What a hideous concoction. Red flags abound all over this list. Jeering Instigator? The amazing card-draw package of Weave Fate and Dig Through Time? The highest of high quality removal spells in Arrow Storm? Yep, this is just abysmal. Still, you have to imagine that sometime in nine rounds of day one at a Grand Prix, somebody is going to run into a giant Mindswipe followed by a giant Crater's Claws.

Prediction: 1-8

What if we go up to three colors, and see whether adding White can get us towards a playable Jeskai deck?

Jeskai

Download Arena Decklist

In case you're wondering about the manabases of these decks – so am I. I'm playing all of the fetches I opened, which I imagine breaks all kinds of fundamental laws of deckbuilding, but, as they say, in for a penny, in for a pound. (Nobody in history has actually said this phrase, but I bring it to you here as a gift from Britain.) Besides, mana is far from the worst problems this deck faces. That said, you can see a clear plan to this deck. We could certainly win games with:

Turn 1 Monastery Swiftspear (them at 19)

Turn 2 Attack for one (18), War-Name Aspirant as a 3/2

Turn 3 Hordeling Outburst, trigger Prowess, attack for five (13)

Turn 4 Attack with the team, Trumpet Blast, trigger Prowess. Eighteen damage (-5). Just in case they've blocked somewhere along the line, Crater's Claws for two, thanks to our Ferocious-ish War-Name Aspirant. If they've blocked a bit more, use Mindswipe, the Claws, or Jeskai Charm to finish them.

Prediction: 3-6

OK, let's switch clans and move along to Sultai:

Sultai

Download Arena Decklist

Oh dear oh dear oh dear. This is so abysmally ghastly I hardly know where to start. Except, of course, by not playing it.

Prediction: 0-9

Even though Sultai was a complete non-starter, Abzan got some nice cards out of the two boxes, especially three copies of Duneblast. Let's see if Abzan Control can get us some wins:

Abzan Control

Download Arena Decklist

Well, this deck is certainly capable of killing a lot of things, a lot. I'm concerned (wouldn't you be?) about running Archers' Parapet, but five toughness is a lot to get through for some decks, and all we want to be doing is getting to our super-expensive Wrath of God effect. Also our super-expensive Pyroclasm effect. Also, there are only four creatures we actually want to stay around after a Duneblast. Also, have you seen that manabase? Urrghh.

Prediction: 2-7

In our increasingly-desperate quest for a playable deck, it's becoming clear that the compromises are overwhelming. Isn't there any decklist we can find that looks, at least on paper, like it might be a Real Deck? Let's give it one last shot:

Black-White Warriors

Download Arena Decklist

Huh. A decklist that looks like a decklist. 4-ofs and 3-ofs, and even the singletons look like things you might actually be choosing to do, rather than through some completely insane and arbitrary imposition of unlikely deckbuilding restrictions. It's easy to see that the deck could and should have a decent board presence by turn four. The trouble is, where's the payoff? There's 25+ Warriors in the deck, but outside the Creature Type-agnostic Master of Pearls, no way to pump them in a game-ending fashion. Trumpet Blast would be good from Red, but I just can't imagine turning up to a Grand Prix with cards like Raiders' Spoils and Rush of Battle in my main deck. Maybe that's the way to go – be incredibly single-minded, and take out the five removal spells and the Wingmate Roc, and replace them with Spoils and Battle. Even then, it's hard to imagine rushing into battle with this deck.

Prediction: 2-7

Sigh. It seems as if two boxes of Khans of Tarkir are not enough alone to make a day two Grand Prix decklist. That said, I can certainly imagine taking the Jeskai deck into Friday Night Magic and having a ton of fun, and at that level there would certainly be wins available for all of these decks, except the Sultai list, which may turn out to be a crime against humanity. So, next time you're faced with multiple eight-hour flights, and just happen to have a couple of boxes in your hand luggage (this happens to me all the time), feel free to take the Two-Box Standard challenge. Meanwhile, if you were playing in the GP this weekend, and simply had to pick one of these monstrosities, what would you play?

Good luck...