With a staggering approximate 84% of its pilots crossing into Day Two, Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact is the breakout deck of the tournament. With fifteen minutes before Round 14, I managed to sit down with Nathan Holiday, live for Top 8 with a 10-3 record, and his teammate Josh McClain, who presented the initial build of the deck to the Channel Fireball / Face-To-Face games crew. I asked for an overview of the deck, what makes it tick and why it's good. McClain summed it up.
Holiday nodded. "Being able to multiply by five was very important in playtesting."
"Yeah, 'What's five times two?' came up a lot. The problem was figuring out how to make the deck work if you weren't attacking for 5 on the second turn. The earliest versions I tried—in secret—had Ramroller in them. It was pretty embarrassing."
"He basically built in the closet," Holiday noted. "Then he'd say 'Okay, let's play some matches, but you can't tell anyone'."
"The real big shift was figuring out Whirler Rogue," McClain continued. "I think that's what really put the deck over the top, giving the deck a way to punch through a stall."
"Also, Hangarback Walker."
"And Stubborn Denial."
"Okay, there are a lot of important cards."
"But it was all about making sure your non-Ensoul draws weren't embarrassing."
Nathan Holiday was just one of the many players on the ChannelFireball / Face-to-Face team-up that brought Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact with them to battle this weekend.
The deck does a good job of making sure the draws where it has Ensoul are gangbusters, thanks to eleven main deck artifacts costing zero or one mana, including four Ornithopters, three Springleaf Drums, and four Ghostfire Blades. It was these last that I wanted more information on. McClain was happy to oblige.
"Ghostfire Blade does a lot of different things besides just wearing Ensoul," McClain explained. "The bonus is just surprisingly relevant in this format. Look at Phyrexian Revoker. A 2/1 can't attack through anything. A 4/3 attacks through everything."
"Even just putting it on Ornithopter is fine," added Holiday, "it's a lot like playing Mono-Red. every point of damage matters so much."
"Also, the fact that it lets your small guys turn on Stubborn Denial is subtly quite important."
"Stubborn Denial has been excellent. You get on the board so fast, and you often only need to stop your opponent for one turn and they're dead."
Why was Hangarback Walker so important to the deck? Holiday filled me in.
"Hangarback Walker in this deck is a lot like Arcbound Ravager in Modern." McClain made disbelieving noises across the table. "I'm not saying it's that powerful, but it behaves in the same way in which every turn that went by while it was on the board was so bad for you. Hangarback is like that. It also comes out early and even if they kill it you still have a creature. Often you want to sacrifice it to get the fliers. I had a game where I played Hangarback on turn two, and then passed with three mana open. My opponent fetched and drew cards with Abzan Charm, down to 17. I Shrapnel Blasted the Walker at him, got two fliers, untapped, hit for 2, and Shrapnel Blasted him twice more."
"We almost had a Collateral Damage in the deck just because there are a lot of situations where you really need to get rid of your Walker."
Lastly, I asked McClain if there were any decks that were bad match-ups, and if the deck would be less powerful as a known quantity.
"Not off the top of my head…" thought McClain. "Well, no. Abzan Aggro. That's really bad. They usually have some number of Dromoka's Commands, and that card is really good against us. I'm not sure how good the Green-White decks are, but they might be good. Also Heroic, but I haven't seen any of that around. As for playing it after this weekend, I think it will definitely lose a few points. People will start playing things like Reclamation Sages, Destructive Revelrys, and Unravel the Æther. I think it will still be good, though. The deck is a lot more resilient than you might think."
That's good news for the folks at home who want to take the power of Scissors to their next Standard tournament.