I’ve been playing Magic for 3 years now and I have learned loads! I attended my first PTQ in January 2010, playing a Scapeshift deck in Extended (when extended used to be roughly what Modern is now) and ended with a 3-3-1 record. Since then, I have attended several PTQs since then, getting better and better records. A few months ago, I ended with a 5-1-1 finish in Cardiff, leaving me outside the top 8 cut-off thanks to poor tiebreakers. In the weekend just gone, I travelled to this year’s WMCQ in Manchester where I finally broke this run and got myself my very first top 8 finish. This is my tournament report for the event. I hope you enjoy it :)!
So, I started my journey on Friday. I travelled up to FNM at Manaleak to meet with Adam Murkin, Jonno Randle and Joe Fletcher, my road trip buddies for the day. I didn’t have a deck constructed but I had a lot of stuff with me, enough to build anything from Zombies to Birthing Pod to Delver. I asked some local players for a bit of advice as to what to build for the tournament and Joe showed me the Naya Humans deck he was going to be running.
I took one look at the techy choices throughout the list and I was hooked. I built up the main deck, and found all of the remaining cards that I was missing for it (with special thanks to Selvan Thamizh Irai for lending me the last 2 Bonfire of the Damneds that I needed!). Later, I headed back to Joe’s house where a bowl of pasta and some American Dad later, I felt I was ready to go and went to sleep to recharge for the tournament at hand!
So, Saturday morning, having gotten into the car, we started discussing sideboard options for the deck we had chosen. We both felt that we wanted 1 or 2 slots in the board dedicated to breaking apart the stalemates that happen so often when we face off in mirror matches. We threw a few ideas around and narrowed our choice down to two possibilities. Divine Deflection and Burn at the Stake. These stalemates occur from both players adding more and more threats to the board, but not being able to attack, mainly due to Restoration Angels and first striking Golem tokens on both sides of the board making your attacks really bad. We felt that Burn at the Stake would be the best way to finish this deadlock, as you can just tap 7 of your guys and hit your opponent for lethal with just 5 open mana! As such, Joe made sure one of them found its way into his sideboard.
On the other hand, I was worried about the mana commitments it would require to play the card. The card is triple red which would probably prove extremely difficult to cast in a deck with very few red sources (most of which being Cavern of Souls too!). As such, I felt that Divine Deflection was better. The card would allow you, in those stalemate positions, to attack into the board and save all your guys, whilst killing a lot of theirs! It also saves your own creatures from a Bonfire of the Damned or from a Restoration Angel ambush. It even acts as a conditional Fireball if you really want it to.
After all of the discussions, we reached Manchester and sat down in our lovely big venue opposite Fanboy3 and wrote out our decklists. Here’s the list I registered:
4 Bonfire of the Damned
The concept of the deck was to take the already powerful Naya Pod shell and improve its consistency by taking out the Pods and the random singleton creatures. If you’ve been playing standard even a little bit in the past few weeks, you can’t have failed to notice the powerhouse that is Restoration Angel. In fact, it is my firm belief that Restoration Angel is currently the most powerful card in standard. As such, this deck is prepared to take full advantage of the card. Whether you’re flickering something as simple as a Borderland Ranger or even something super sweet like Blade Splicer or Geist-Honoured Monk, playing Restoration Angel properly will always work out with you gaining some sort of important advantage.
The concept of this deck is to develop your board as much as needed through these sorts of interactions and start getting in for damage. Mirror matches are tricky since Restoration Angels bounce off of each other and force stalemates to occur. In general, the deck has a number of good matchups and only a handful of bad ones. I will go over this now, as I go over how the deck performs against the top decks.
Here are some of the more interesting choices in the deck and why we played them:
FOUR Cavern of Souls
So yeah, we played a full set of Caverns! Our main deck only played 4 non-creature spells, so more than anything, Cavern was a sweet mana fixing land. Keeping Delver’s multiple counterspells off of our backs was nothing more than a bonus. That was really the only incentive we needed. Most of our creatures are humans, so a Cavern naming human fixed our mana indefinitely.
FOUR Gavony Township
Again, most decks of the same archetype only go with 2 or 3 copies of this land, but playing 4 allowed us to see it in the majority of the games we played. Specifically, Township helps to break mirror matches. If we have a stalemate, Township swings it in our favour by making our guys a hell of a lot bigger. A single Township activation makes all of our Golem tokens and Restoration Angels bigger than theirs, which helps to no end.
Yeah, another card that most decks don’t elect to play a full set of. This is for a reason similar to the Gavony Townships. We expected Naya to be one of the most played decks, in one form or another, hence stalemates were likely to occur a lot. The very best card available for breaking these is Bonfire, wiping out their entire board whilst getting in a significant amount of damage. Even with an opponent still on a high life total, this can often win you the game on the spot. Imagine hitting them for 5 with this being Miracled and then attacking for lethal thanks to your now fairly large army of guys.
Most Naya decks use some combination of Wolfir Silverheart and Zealous Conscripts as their 5-drops of choice. As we’re not playing Birthing Pod or Garruk Relentless to search for singleton creatures, playing a 2-1 split of these creatures didn’t seem very powerful. Instead, we opted for the three Monks as our 5-drop. In the dark, Geist-Honored Monk is the best option, having massive synergy with Gavony Township and Restoration Angel. In games 2 and 3, the Monks were often boarded out in favour of Wolfir Silverheart OR Zealous Conscripts, whichever was better for the matchup at hand.
UW Delver (My record: 1-0)
Ah yes, everybody’s favourite format-warping deck… -_-
Anyway, by this deck, I mean the traditional UW Delver setup, most likely playing a couple of Swords or Pikes, Delver of Secrets, Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel, Geist of Saint Traft, Ponder, Gitaxian Probe, etc…
This matchup is certainly favoured, but I don’t feel it is as strong as you may want it to be. It’s sort of a 60-40 matchup whereby, they can win pretty easily if they get a ridiculous start, due to this deck’s lack of early removal. If they haven’t done all that much by turn 3 or 4, your chances of winning significantly improve as your mid-late game is a LOT stronger.
For sideboarding, you often take out Strangleroot Geist in favour of Combusts and Crushing Vines and also bring in cards like 1 Ancient Grudge (depending on what you see in game 1) and 1 Divine Deflection, taking out random one-ofs like 1 Borderland Ranger or 1 Geist-Honoured Monk.
Naya Mirror Matches (My record: 3-0)
Surprisingly, you are highly favoured in the mirror matches due to the power of your maindeck. With 4 Bonfires and 4 Townships, you are heavily favoured in game 1 and then when you bring in Divine Deflection for games 2 and/or 3, your odds of winning go up even more. However, there is a lot of luck involved. Naya decks usually have Bonfires somewhere in their 75 and so they could randomly Bonfire you to death if they peel one before you do.
For sideboarding, you want to be taking out Thalias and Monks, bringing in Wolfir Silverheart (so your angels can trump theirs), Crushing Vines, Divine Deflections and probably 1 Combust (for killing Angels). If you saw Birthing Pod in game 1, then the Ancient Grudges are a good shout too, for killing both Golem tokens and the Pods.
Solar Flare (My record: 1-0)
The match I did play against Solar Flare during the tournament was pretty uneventful, due to winning via severe mana screw problems on his end. I feel very lucky, because I know this to be an awful matchup. If they reanimate Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, you have basically zero outs and will not win. After sideboarding, Surgical Extraction gives you a bit of a lifeline and so does Zealous Conscripts (as stealing an Elesh Norn often just wipes the rest of their board and lets you hit for 9).
Frites (My record: 1-1)
Frites is a pretty good call for the expected metagame, so it shouldn’t be counted out. This is by far the deck’s worst matchup. Solar Flare typically gets Elesh Norn out to win against you and as Frites does this faster, it is a hell of a lot harder to beat. Again, your best shots off of the sideboard are the Surgical Extractions and Zealous Conscripts, and hoping you get some decent draws.
The following decks are in the expected metagame, but I am speaking based on theory, NOT my own experiences, having had only a little experience with the deck and having not played these matchups yet.
Zombies (RB or UB)
Zombies seem to be a tough matchup, although very winnable. After sideboarding, Celestial Purge comes in against the only matchup the card is even in the sideboard for. Before boarding, you should be hoping to make as many guys as possible since they don’t use mass removal (except the odd Killing Wave) and they should hopefully run out of spot removal cards eventually. Restoration Angel ambush plays should be devastating, especially if you flicker a Blade Splicer to get an additional blocking Golem token.
This deck is almost like the mirror match, as their creature line up is the same Blade Splicer + Restoration Angel package. Their late game is a lot stronger than ours, with cards such as Sun Titans, Gideon Juras and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage, but if we can gain control of the mid game with our Huntmasters and Restoration Angels, the match shouldn’t be too difficult.
After sideboarding, Combust is very important as it kills their Angels yet again but interestingly enough, can also damage an animated Gideon, as it creates unpreventable damage. Zealous Conscripts should come in to take advantage of their late game win conditions, especially Gideon.
I’m only including this because I’ve played this matchup from the Grand Architect’s side and it’s not very pretty. The problem this deck has is that it’s heavily metagamed towards the typical decks like Delver and Naya and hence random decks like this can come along and ruin its plans.
Ok, so, I shall now continue with the tournament report 😀
So, we sat down for our player meeting and after some fairly horrible printer problems, we eventually started round 1.
Round 1 (Naya Mirror):
For game 1, I started on the draw. My opponent was fast starting out with a turn 2 Birds of Paradise into a turn 3 Huntmaster of the Fells, unfortunately making my own turn 3 Huntmaster useless (for those who don’t know, whoever plays Huntmaster second will lose out, since the opponent can just pass the turn without casting anything and in your turn, theirs will transform first, killing yours). I mulled over my options and eventually decided to actually play my turn 3 Huntmaster. As expected, he let his transform and kill mine.
I then proceeded to cast an Avacyn’s Pilgrim and a Thalia, transforming his Ravager of the Fells back into the Huntmaster. Once again, as predicted, he passed without doing anything except a land drop and attacking with his wolf tokens, transforming his Huntmaster and killing my Thalia. By this point, I was on turn 6 and he’d missed a couple of lands. I played my sixth land and thanks to having 3 mana dudes in play, I cast a Bonfire of the Damned for X = 4, clearing his entire board, leaving me with my 3 mana guys and a Wolf token. He was stuck on 3 or 4 lands and couldn’t draw or cast anything relevant, so my little army with a Gavony Township gave me the win relatively quickly.
In game 2, I kept a slow hand on 6 (no 1 drop mana acceleration), so he managed to commit a lot to the board very quickly. I played a turn 4 Huntmaster of the Fells which then fell victim to a miracled Bonfire of the Damned. On turn 5, I played a Geist-Honored Monk but that got hit by Fiend Hunter, dropping my life total even lower. However, I then Miracled my own Bonfire of the Damned, wiping his pretty extensive board of 2 Huntmasters and the Fiend Hunter, giving me back my Monk and 2 more spirit tokens. One Gavony Township later and my 4 Spirit tokens swung in for 8 damage, and then the next turn, lethal.
Round 2 (UW Delver):
Game 1 was over extremely quickly as his turns played out like so:
Turn 2: Island, Ponder, second Delver.
Turn 3: Flip both Delvers, cast Spectral Flight on one, attack for 8.
Turn 4: Attack for 8.
Turn 5: Attack for game?
Game 3, I kept one of the best openers I’ve seen against this deck. 2 lands, Avacyn’s Pilgrim, 2 Restoration Angels and 2 Combusts. I curved out perfectly having drawn a Borderland Ranger for turn 2 as well as a Cavern of Souls to make my Angels both uncounterable. He had 2 Angels of his own, but thanks to my Combusts, I had more Angels overall. I took control of the game and was able to drop him to 4, but he managed to cast Timely Reinforcements with an active Moorland Haunt which could very well have stabilised the match for him, but at that point, a miracled Bonfire for 3 (leaving 3 open for a Mana Leak) left him with only a tapped Restoration Angel and 2 mana left which allowed me to swing for lethal with my team.
Round 3 (Solar Flare):
This round was not very fun, nor was it very difficult. I mulled to 5 in game 1, keeping 4 lands and a Blade Splicer on the draw. He had kept two lands and didn’t see another one all game. I found myself a Huntmaster for turn 4 and short of a Doom Blade on my Golem token, nothing could be done to stop me.
Game 2 was very similar. We had a better game, but as his game plan to win largely involves a Sun Titan or an Elesh Norn, not drawing a single one after drawing through about 30-35 cards of his deck meant that I didn’t really need to do much to win. I count myself very lucky in this match as Solar Flare is a terrible matchup for this deck.
Round 4 (Frites):
Talking about bad matchups… In game 1, he made Elesh Norn on turn 4 O_O. Go to game 2… He mulled to 5 with a sick opener, I had an aggressive start, knocking him to 9 by turn 4. He was then able to cast the final Faithless Looting to get Elesh Norn and Unburial Rites in the grave, but didn’t have the mana open to cast it in the same turn, so made some Lingering Souls blockers. I peeled yet another [/card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card], knocking him to 7 with 7 power on the board and no blockers defending him. Game 3 was too easy for him, as he made Elesh Norn again, this time on turn 3! Simple as!
Round 5 (Naya Mirror):
I don’t remember much about games 1 and 2, but we shared them as he had Wolfir Silverheart for game 1 and I had Restoration Angels in game 2. Game 3 was much more interesting. He was playing as Pod version of the deck, which gave him an edge over my deck whenever he drew it. He had it in this game and on turn 5, he cast a Zealous Conscripts, stealing my Huntmaster of the Fells, turning it into a Wolfir Silverheart and pairing it with the Conscripts. From then on, he kept attacking with his team of 2 Avacyn’s Pilgrim and the Silverheart/Conscripts pair and I was forced to take a defensive stance. He was constantly pumping his team with a Township of his own too. But then, a miracle happened.
The situation is as follows. I controlled a Strangleroot Geist, Restoration Angel and 2 Birds of Paradise with a Zealous Conscripts of my own in hand. He pumped his team again so they each had two +1/+1 counters on them. I was on 7, he was on 16 and he attacked me with everything. I thought over the situation and sent my Geist and a Birds to block his two massive guys (now a 10/10 and a 9/9) but let the Pilgrims hit me, dropping me to one.
On my next draw step, I drew a Bonfire and just had to think over the situation as I was quite obviously dead next turn if I made the wrong play. We had 15 minutes left on the round so I had plenty of time to mull it over and we agreed not to call for slow play because of this. After about 3 minutes or so, I saw an out to the situation. I cast the Bonfire for 4, leaving back my Birds and killing his Pilgrims, dropping him to 12. I then attacked with Restoration Angel to take him to 9 and thus presenting him with a scenario.
In my thinking, I saw no outs and hence told him my card in hand was a Conscripts. He knew, that no matter what he did now, Conscripts would win the game. If he attacked with both guys, I would block with my two blockers, then Conscripts one of them for game. If he didn’t attack, then by playing Conscripts, he’d block my biggest guy and still take lethal. He drew a land and simply knew he’d lost because of this. I showed him the Conscripts and he scooped.
Round 6 (Naya Mirror):
For game 1, I made a really basic misplay. He was stuck on mana and therefore not committing anything to the board. I saw this as an opportunity to get more damage through and ended up overextending too much, which meant the Bonfire for 2 that he kept in his hand cleared my board, leaving me with just a Blade Splicer in hand and I couldn’t recover.
Game 2 was very interesting though. On his turn 2 (on the draw) he made a Blade Splicer, but didn’t put a Golem into play. Come round to my turn 3, I cast a Blade Splicer of my own which makes him wonder why he didn’t put a Golem token into play. When he tried to, I told him it was a lapsing trigger and hence he’d missed his opportunity and called a judge over to confirm this ruling too. As such, he didn’t get his Golem token, which let me attack into his board with my own first striking Golem, getting his life total down. I managed to further my advantage by making strategic blocks and blinking my Blade Splicer with two Restoration Angels. Once I had the two angels down, two attacks was all I needed to close up the game.
Game 3 went pretty long. We started with good hands (even though mine involved just one forest and 3 Birds of Paradise) and started committing guys to the board, neither of us making any real impact or gaining any significant advantage. I started attacking in when it was safe to do so. At one point, I attacked with a 2/2 Wolf token and a Borderland Ranger, into his 4 open mana. He tried to ambush my guys by flashing in a Restoration Angel, flickering his Blade Splicer for another Golem and blocking both guys. I then cast Divine Deflection, saving them both and killing his Angel, turning his blowout back against him.
From there, with first striking tokens coming down on both sides, neither of us could do much nor attack. I eventually drew a Gavony Township to break the stalemate and started attacking with a 4/4 Borderland Ranger when he’d have to double block to kill it, with the fear of another Divine Deflection to blow him out. At this point, time was called and we were in extra turns. Thankfully, I started on turn 1 and had 3 whole turns to close out the game knowing that, on 22 life, I’d be safe from counter swings coming back at me. On turn 3, I attacked with everything, forcing him to chump everything and leave his board clear, so my turn 5 swing finished the job.
And with that, an ID locks me into top 8 :D. I check the round 6 standings to find me in 5th place and safe to ID. I caught up with fellow brummie player Manveer Samra who was also doing well, being 5-0-1 at this point and therefore top of swiss and locked for another Top 8. Funnily enough, I was paired against Manveer for round 7 and he agreed to ID with me, knowing this would be my first top 8. I took the length of the round to watch Jonno Randle end up drawing with Andrew Devine to drop out of contention and compose my thoughts, discussing sideboard strategies and general gameplay with Ben Heath and Joe Fletcher.
The top 8 announcement was made and I got in on 6th place, which to my dismay, put me facing the very same player who beat me in the Swiss with Frites, making my confidence just shoot all the way down to about 1%. Oh well, at this point, I’ve done a LOT better than I planned to do and was thrilled. So I sat down to my matchup knowing that no matter what, I’d be happy with the outcome. We shuffled up, shook hands and began the match!
The Top 8
Quarter Finals (Frites):
Game 1 started oddly. I mulliganed to 6 and he went all the way down to 4. He was on the play due to the new Competitive REL rules letting the player placed higher in swiss pick the play or the draw. He simply opened with a land and a Faithless Looting, pitching an Elesh Norn, but beyond that didn’t see anything. I threw guys on the table and turned them sideways. I won the game in fairly short order thanks to the 4 card opener, but turns out he had Unburial Rites as his next draw on the turn I won, so I won just in time.
Game 2 was the exact opposite. I went to 6 again, losing to, this time, a turn 3 Elesh Norn… In game 3 I kept a sweet hand with double Cavern of Souls, Borderland Ranger, Surgical Extraction and Zealous Conscripts, giving me some amount of protection against his combo. Once again, I tried to run out guys and try to kill him quickly. It soon became apparent he was trying to hardcast his Elesh Norn due to the amount of pressure I was applying, so I started to go after his mana accelerators by transforming Huntmasters and at one point by casting a Bonfire for 1 to clear out two of them. On the turn before he was able to hardcast the Elesh Norn, despite my efforts so far, I got him down to 2 life and with the Conscripts in hand to steal her, as well as a topdecked Bonfire the following turn, I won the match!
Semi Finals (4 Colour Pod):
I had no idea how to play this match to be perfectly honest. I played horribly throughout and didn’t really give myself any chances. At no point did I have an advantage because of this. I’ll leave it at that for this report. Andrew Devine’s pod deck was incredible, attacking the format from a whole host of different angles and I can definitely see why he got as far as he did and why he beat me so easily. So, that was that. I wished Andrew good luck for the finals (although Manveer actually won in the end!), grabbed my half a box of AVR and left.
Taking Naya Pod forward!
So, apart from FNM this week, that was the very last Standard tournament I will play without M13 in Standard, so I’ve been thinking about what I would do to boost Naya Aggro/Pod for the new Standard environment and most importantly, for the rest of the PTQ season.
First of all, I think Birthing Pod is probably the best option for the deck post-M13. From what I could gather from playing the deck, there were a lot of problems that could be solved by running Birthing Pods and using the odd singleton creature. Nearheath Pilgrim for example would have been great in those ever so common mirror matches to help stay alive, and also against matchups such as Zombies which are more aggressive than us.
As for this version in particular, there are a couple of nice cards from M13 that ought to improve the deck. The deck lacks a consistently good two-drop creature, Elvish Visionary stands out as a sweet reprint that could very well help, having excellent synergy with Restoration Angel, although it’s nowhere near as aggressive as the current options. Flinthoof Boar, being a pseudo 3/3 for 2 may very well find a home in the deck too.
The primary card I’m looking at though is Thragtusk! Thragtusk is actually insane. If this deck is designed to make Restoration Angel better then Thragtusk is pretty much the perfect 5-drop. It also fills a spot in the deck that is currently lacking, which is the ability to gain life. Huntmaster does it but not to particularly great effect. Thragtusk ought to give you a huge edge in aggro matchups and can always be swapped for Zealous Conscripts off the board for against Solar Flare and the like. The card will enable the deck to get ridiculously far ahead in the game just by resolving and then even further by being flickered with Restoration Angel. I can’t comment beyond that, having not actually tested the card, but I certainly will be very soon.
That’s it from me then! Thanks for reading and good luck to everyone in their respective release events!