Are you going to Grand Prix Manchester in a fortnight? I’m going to Grand Prix Manchester in a fortnight.
I’m really excited – it’s been quite some time since I’ve been to a Grand Prix, and while I tend to enjoy the holidays, it’s nice to have one that doesn’t necessitate navigating four buses, a plane ride or two, some trains and a camel ride to get to the venue. Instead, I’ll be going down on Friday after work, which is pretty alien.
I understand the appeal of making the UK Grand Prix in London for ease of international travellers, and I’m sure, from a tourist perspective, London is significantly more appealing than Manchester, but from a selfish perspective, I want to drive, and I think London is a toilet.
Honestly though, had they given me control of what format it was, which they should have, Block Constructed wouldn’t have been my choice. To be honest though, I’ve been slacking off on the Magic front in the last few months due to being overly busy at work, so I’d be working off an almost clean slate regardless of the format.
The last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself ready to prepare, but unwilling to sink too much time into a new format. I’ve been treading water, waiting for Journey into Nyx to get released online, and for the Pro Tour to shape the metagame that’s going to appear in Manchester. There have been a smattering of Daily Events that have visible results online in the run up to the Pro Tour, but as we can measure, these aren’t wholly reflective of what the format looks like now.
The deck that I’d been experimenting most with online was a Jund deck. I actually thought it was very good. I expected that it was obvious enough that it would get fleshed out by the Pros for the Tour, and I could build on a base of knowledge by updating the decklist.
For whatever reason, that didn’t happen, and I’m not sure why. The deck looks excellent still, but doesn’t seem to have made an appearance in any of the top decks of the tournament.
I’m happy enough with it to discuss it in its current form, and attempt to update it during the coming weeks, to see if it has what it takes to hang with the new class of Junk Constellation, BUG Control and friends.
I played the deck in a GPT at Black Lion Games in Edinburgh on Saturday, and went 5-0 in the swiss rounds, before falling to Esper in the finals. The decks I played against were:
Round One – Gruul Elspeth – 2-0
Round Two – Mono Red – 2-1
Round Three – Orzhov Aggro – 2-0
Round Four – Gruul Elspeth – 2-1
Round Five – Mono Red – 2-0
Semifinals – Mono Red – 2-1
Finals – Esper – 1-2
Which wasn’t a bad showing for the deck, against a fairly reasonable spread of archetypes.
While it’s almost irrelevant to talk about the matches, I think that, while the deck will likely evolve, and maybe even shed a colour going forwards, there is still some value in discussing the card choices, and what drew me to this deck over the Gruul Elspeth deck, which is probably the closest analogue in the format.
The Best Combo in the Format
It should really be no secret that the best things that you can do in the early turns of the game is to cast a Sylvan Caryatid on turn two, and follow it up with a Courser of Kruphix on turn three, ideally revealing a Scry Land on the top of your deck, effectively drawing a card.
That is why this engine is so good – it enables you to effectively draw a card every time there’s a land on top of your deck and you haven’t already played one. It smoothes your draws, hopefully ensuring that there’s a steady stream of cards with mana costs on the top of your deck, and the incidental life gain, while a nightmare from a clerical point of view, does effectively obsolete entire strategies.
If I know that almost all the decks I play against are going to run these two cards (which they should), I’d need to be the most determined of Pyromasters to entertain a deck like Mono Red.
These are the cards that give you early game against Mono Black, standing in front of the early weenie rush of Minotaurs with missing arms and Heros who look a little tormented.
As an aside on blocking with these cards in the early turns, I’ve frequently found myself in situations where I’m legitimately not sure if the trick in my opponent’s hand is worth losing my Caryatid to a pump spell, of which both Red and Black play many.
While in these matchups, historically my goal has been to preserve my life total as much as humanly possible, as a rule of thumb, if taking a hit will let me jump to a four drop that can better block, I won’t block. If I have a Courser and a four drop AND the lands to cast the Courser, I will block. It’s not hard and fast, but if you ask yourself ‘Is my Caryatid worth his trick’, you’ll be in a good position to make the decision.
In any case, these are the best things that you can be doing in the format, in my opinion and you’ll need to have a very good reason for attempting to do anything else.
Markedly worse than Sylvan Caryatid, for many, obvious reasons, but still a necessary component for a deck as reliant on powering out four drops on turn three.
Voyaging Satyr is solid, but unspectacular, and I’m not a fan of getting him Magma Jetted against the Gruul Elspeth deck in the pseudo-mirror, but by the same token, I can’t justify running any less than three in the maindeck, where speed is so important.
It is worth considering that in this deck, in Game One, we want to present as aggressive a deck as possible, while frequently transforming into a control deck against many of the smaller creature decks, and even the mirror. It is fortunate that some of the more aggressively costed creatures like Polukranos and Reaper of the Wilds do a reasonable job regardless of your role in the matchup.
Four Drop Power Jump
These are the main way that we’re going to be interacting with our opponents – ideally from the third turn onwards. These cards all do some work at stalling the ground, or just hitting for big numbers as early as possible.
Polis Crusher seems underplayed to me. It has targets against pretty much every deck, and outside of decks with Black, which there are many, it’s very difficult to kill without spending two cards.
An uptick in Banishing Light is incredibly good for Polis Crusher, as not only is it immune, but it can blow up Lights that have been used on other scary cards. Not to mention just killing a large portion of Enchantment creatures, including, but not limited to Courser of Kruphix, Herald of Torment, Eidolon of Blossoms and so on.
Polukranos and I have had a somewhat strained relationship. He does a lot against a lot of decks, but he’s hit more than his fair share of hurdles, and against quite a lot of decks, he’s just a 5/5 for four, which is reasonable, but hardly exciting in this day and age of uber creatures.
I started with three and one in the board, then trimmed it back to two and two, which seems to be a happier balance. I’ve found that I definitely want four of them across the seventy five, but three in the maindeck just felt like it was a little too many.
I feel like it’s the sort of card where I probably want 2.5 or so in the deck, but obviously we only deal in whole numbers, and my natural desire to err on the side of caution in deck building has led me to trimming one. You might feel differently.
Reaper of the Wilds is one of the best cards in the format. Outside of Elspeth, almost nothing kills it. There’s no Wrath of God to speak of, and Hexproof is a tough nut to crack. I try to play this at a point when I’ve got six mana so as to protect it, assuming I’ve got a choice, but if I’ve drawn a hand with multiples, it’s coming down at my earliest convenience.
Xenagos, the Reveler is the card that, assuming I have a choice, I will be playing first, over all the others. This is for the sole reason that Xenagos on turn three off a Caryatid or a Voyaging Satyr, making a Satyr generates enough mana the following turn to feasibly cast a three drop AND another four drop, or a two and a five, assuming the lands are playing nice.
The more I’ve played with Xenagos, the more and more I’ve been impressed with him – he’s very tricksy, and operates in a way that’s not entirely intuitive, which is very welcome in a deck that can, at first glance, seem as if it’s just a big, dumb idiots deck.
Five Cost Finishers
Stormbreath Dragon is the midrange deck trump, and the control killer. We’re hopefully taxing opponent’s removal with our vast menagerie of idiots that they’re hopefully not going to be able to hold up a Hero’s Downfall for this, and it can hit for large numbers as early as turn four.
This is the biggest, dumbest idiot in our big, dumb idiot deck, and should be treated as such. If you’re playing against a deck that could feasibly answer him, like any deck with black, it’s important to Monstrous him if they give you a window to do it safely, even if it’s at a less than ideal time for you.
Monstrous on the Dragon is effectively drawing a card, even if that card is a Storm Seeker/ Oakenform fuse card, and you’d be wise to use it if the opponent indicates that it is going to be safe to do so.
Stormbreath is actually very good against Elspeth. You can sneak it under the point of the game where the opponent would be able to cast it, threatening a Monstrous to finish it off if she uses her minus ability, and it flies over the turn after she’s played, ignoring the army in a can on the ground, and putting her to a level where she can’t minus any more.
The non-Reaper four drops in the deck are all included with Elspeth in mind, and pretty much all warrant an immediate minus three, or they’ll break through on the ground and kill it.
I end up cutting Stormbreath Dragon against all the aggressive decks, and I found that was a turning point for me in terms of understanding this format. Stormbreath was one of my marquee cards, and one that most attracted me to the Gruul colour combination, so surely it’d be good all the time, right? On the contrary, the format is frequently too fast for five drops to matter, and this doesn’t compare favourably to many creatures lower down the curve, especially for one who doesn’t play defence particularly well.
Starting to cut Stormbreath Dragon drastically improved my aggro matchups, and my general knowledge of the format, which came at an opportune time.
Xenagos, God of Revels is one for the attrition based matchups, of which there are many. Just an indestructible card that makes even our most modest creatures into legitimate threats.
He’s been impressive, but one is the correct number of Xenagos, for sure. There’s absolutely no benefit to the second, and he’s not so clutch that a second is necessary. We’re focusing more on four drops than fives in this deck anyway, and a four drop on turn three is almost uniformly better than a five drop on turn four. This format necessitates early action, and turn five is just too late to start with the threats.
These are the cards that hold the deck together, and the main draw to me of being Golgari based rather than Gruul. I think I like being on the Hero’s Downfall side of the Elspeth mirror, when we get to play real removal and they’re playing Lightning Strike and Magma Jet, especially in a matchup that’s so attrition based.
This was my favourite card in Journey into Nyx, and Xenagos seems to make the best Silence the Believers deck. We’re obviously not running any over Hero’s Downfall, as Elspeth just needs to die, but as a 5/6th copy, it’s been more than impressive.
Two potentially high impact cards with very little downside. They’re often great when you draw them, but it’s seldom back breaking when you don’t. I’ve been hoping for a Destructive Revelry before, but quite often, you don’t care if it’s Revelry or Polis Crusher if you’re looking to kill an Enchantment. I like these cards, but could easily see the argument against them.
Twelve scrylands feels right. I’d entertain cutting one or two in favour of more Mana Confluence, but I definitely don’t want less than ten.
One of the shortcomings of this format is that there’s nothing to do with lands other than tap them for mana, which makes flooding more damaging.
Our Dragons and Polis Crushers give us a reasonable amount of things to do with our mana, and I’d definitely recommend utilising these monstrous cards as a way to mitigate against flood.
Dark Betrayal is for Mono-Black. I don’t bring it in against anything that isn’t heavily base black and aggressive.
Drown in Sorrow is for any aggressive decks, be they Red, Black or White based.
Hammer of Purphoros is for any attrition based matchup like midrange or control. It’s also good against mono-Black. Anything that is difficult to deal with, and/or leaves a body or anything else behind when it dies is how you win attrition battles.
Mistcutter Hydra is for decks that would try and counter your stuff.
Mogis, God of Slaughter is for Control, or any midrange deck without Elspeth. It’s pretty loose. I’m willing to cut it.
Polukranos is for midrange and aggro decks. Any time he’s likely to be allowed to Monstrous, he’s coming in.
Silence the Believers is for when we want to become a control deck, which is against most aggro and midrange decks.
You can cut your non-Caryatid ramp guys if you’re sure the match goes long, as drawing Voyaging Satyr in the late game is miserable. Other than that, it should be fairly obvious what goes where, but understanding the ‘why’ is much more important.
Hope to see you in Manchester
Stay classy mtgUK,