Today is the first day of actual holidays in a very long time (well, as soon as I'm done writing this article). It's been a crazy couple of months and I enjoyed every bit of it. It started with PT M15 in Portland in August and the pressure in relation to the result I had to deliver. Then the trip to South Africa and the wedding, then the moving into our new place in France, and finally PT Khans of Tarkir in Hawaii and its preparation.

Monica and I arrived eight days before day one of the Pro Tour and met the rest of the team in Honolulu. The line-up in Team Revolution's ranks for that tournament had changed a little bit from last time. In addition to the original Pierre Dagen, Jérémy Dezani, Timothée Simonot, Melissa DeTora, Brad Nelson and Joel Larsson, Roberto Gonzales who already playtested with us for PT Dragon's Maze (San Diego) and Born of the Gods (Valencia) joined us as well as two new recruits: Denniz Rachid and Patrick Dickmann.

Most of us are workaholics when it comes to getting ready for the PT and we won't get any rest as long as we don't feel 100% ready. That means we had to give up on some valuable fun time at the beach and all the other cool stuff to do on a paradise island. It's not like a well-planned testing schedule would change much either as we always want to improve our constructed deck or play another draft.

Our gauntlet for this tournament was quite accurate since we had pretty much all the decks that were going to be played at the PT: Jeskai, Abzan, Mardu (all kinds), Jeskai Ascendency, Green Devotion, UB, and a few other aggro decks.

We each started working on different brews to attack the format. Brad and I were into playing Mountains and Hordeling Outburst while Jérémy was onto Mardu Control. While I was trying very hard to make monored work, Brad took a different approach and his deck evolved into a RW Token/Control-after-board deck that I didn't quite like (his deck tech can be found here). I'll talk about the Monored deck in another article that I'll be writing within the next few days. You can see the decklist here:

DECKID=1218216

What I didn't like about Brad's deck was that I felt it wasn't as good as my monored deck in game one and not as good as Jérémy's control deck in game two. Two days before the PT, I decided to drop my monored deck for multiple reasons (that I'll talk about in length in the next article) and go for the kind of deck I'm not exactly familiar with in general, Jérémy's Mardu Control deck.

So here's the list we ended up playing:

DECKID=1218217


When I needed a Backup Plan after I decided to give up on my monored deck, Jérémy sold me his deck as the best deck in the format. He had been testing it the whole time and came up with that version, claiming it had no significant bad matchups and a few very good ones. Jérémy was PoY last year thanks to his amazing ability to play, but also to his excellent deck choices. We managed to convince him to play Rabble Red last time so it was my time to trust his deck choice.


The Mana Base :

4 Mountains
2 Plains
1 Swamp
3 Evolving Wilds
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Nomad Outpost
3 Temple of Triumph
4 Temple of Silence
2 Battlefield Forge

I don't think I have ever in my life played a 27 land deck before and at first, I thought it was scary. But you need to hit the first four land drops to get to Chandra as soon as possible and also be able to play Elspeth reliably on turn 6-9. The idea behind a grindy deck like this one is to one-for-one your opponent's threats and eventually play a game-winning card. Your only real source of card advantage/draw engine being Chandra. The high number of lands might sound unreal, but it makes a lot of sense. The seven fetch lands allow you to find the right-colored mana while thinning your deck off lands at the same time. The seven scry lands allow you to send the extra lands to the bottom when you don't need them. Overall, you quickly make up for your lack relative lower number of spells.

I never had a problem with colored mana; this manabase has the perfect mix of lands, coming tapped and untapped, that are both good against aggro and control. Jérémy spent a lot of time perfecting it and even after I played 10 rounds with the deck, I wouldn't change anything of it.

Another note about the lands: the Evolving Wilds, along with the Bloodstained Mires and the four Mountains, allow you to reliably count on your Chain to the Rocks to get rid of a creature.


The Removal/Disruption/Tools:

2 Anger of the Gods
2 End Hostilities
4 Chained to the Rocks
4 Lightning Strike
2 Thoughtseize
4 Crackling Doom
4 Mardu Charm
1 Banishing Light
1 Utter End
1 Tormenting Voices

Mardu Charm does absolutely everything in the deck. It's an instant speed removal that takes care of the most important creatures in the format such as Brimaz, King of Oreskos or Courser of Kruphix (and all the <4 toughness creatures), its Duress ability helps to plan your game ahead by checking your opponent's hand and discarding a potential non-creature threat, a Counterspell or a removal for your planeswalkers. The tokens are also a possibility when you're missing blockers or need to put a clock against an empty-handed opponent. It wasn't the best mode to choose at this PT, but if token or small creature decks make an appearance, it will become much more interesting.

Anger of the Gods and End Hostilities are the mass removal spells of the format. Supreme Verdict is gone, but it doesn't mean Wrath effects are, and even at five mana, they are huge. End Hostilities is great against any green deck relying on Sylvan Caryatid for mana. They usually pack Coursers and a bunch of dudes, be it Green Devotion or Abzan, and they run straight into it. Anger of the Gods is on duty to kill the smaller critters, or to reset a board infested with goblins recruited by Rabblemaster.

Crackling Doom is a fantastic way to deal with opposing Sarkhan or an otherwise pro-white Stormbreath Dragon and an instant-speed way to destroy a Sylvan Caryatid when facing Jeskai Ascendency. The 2 points of damage are also relevant when it comes to winning the game a little faster. A lot of decks don't care so much about life totals, especially when facing control. A point of fetch here, a point of pain land there. Along with Chandra, it's a way to bring your opponent's life total down. When you activate Chandra's ultimate ability (happens very often), having an extra way to deal direct damage is important if you can't hit a Lightning Strike to burn your opponent out.

Lightning Strike is just the cheapest instant-speed removal in these colors and deals with the fastest threats of the format, such as Seeker of the Way, Mantis Rider and Goblin Rabblemaster.

Chained to the Rocks is the cheapest removal in the format, and you have the luxury of being able to play it without any problem in this deck. Make sure you play them right when you're facing sideboarded Glare of Heresy.

Banishing Light and Utter End are two different ways to deal with Planeswalkers, artifacts and enchantments, one at three mana, the other one at four but at instant speed. There are a few cards this deck has a hard time dealing with, like opposing Elspeth, Nylea, Keranos, or gods in general. Both of these cards help fix that problem.

Thoughtseize is your go to discard spell. In a format where pure control isn't exactly your number one opponent, you don't need to have four in the maindeck, especially when one of the main decks is trying to burn you out quickly.

The Tormenting Voice is the two-drop we found to smooth your land heavy draws or get to your win condition faster. You'll always have a card to discard, be it an extra land, or a removal spell you don't have targets for.


The Planeswalkers:

4 Chandra, Pyromaster
3 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

When dissecting the format, we came to the realisation that Chandra was one of the best cards to play with and the best way to make card advantage. She's at her best in this deck as you have a million ways to protect her. She will help you find your lands to play your Elspeth, ping and kill critters, start damaging your opponent, or just straight win the game when you can activate her ultimate at the right time. It's probably the hardest card to play with as well as the one damage to your opponent is sometimes very relevant. What do you do on an empty board? Do you ping, or do you try to dig for your other win cons? It entirely depends on the matchup and the situation. A lot of players tend to +0 when the correct play is to +1. There's probably a whole article to be written about when to do which.

As for the new team member Sarkhan, he's only a one-of in the deck, but maybe should have been a two-of. He's the fastest clock you can have on the board, and he kills Brimaz and Stormbreath Dragons. His ultimate is also extremely useful, as you can imagine (check game one of round 12). Just like Chandra, it's not always easy to decide what to do, attack or shoot a creature, also totally depends on the situation and matchup.

Oh, and is there much left to say about Elspeth?

The deck is very grindy, and not extremely intuitive to play. It took me a couple of rounds to have the right feeling with it (didn't quite have the time to play many test games with it unfortunately). The most important thing is that I only learned about how to sideboard properly along the way.


Sideboard and Matchups:

4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
1 End Hostilities
1 Anger of the Gods
1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
2 Thoughtseize
2 Read the Bones
1 Resolute Archangel


Vs. Jeskai

Two of my four losses in the constructed part of the tournament came from Jeskai (the aggro/burn deck). The matchup is probably a little unfavourable, but not by a lot. The problem is that it takes too much time to kill them and they can find burn in the meantime to finish you off as you're not playing any lifegain in the main. Add to that, the fact that you don't always find the answers to their threat, and the matchup becomes a little problematic. They will bring in Counterspells to deal with your planeswalker.

Your sideboard plan is to add threats and lifegain and take out sorcery speed removal.

+4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
+1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
+3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
+1 Resolute Archangel

-2 End Hostilities
-4 Chained to the Rocks
-2 Thoughtseize
-1 Crackling Doom

You can find a sample of how the games can go in my match against Ben Stark in Round 4 of the PT (the last game was not very representative of how the games usually go).


Vs. Jeskai Ascendency

You have all the weapons to fight this deck. Even though I lost to Lee Shi Tian in the swiss, the matchup is very favourable. You have hand disruption with Thoughtseize and Mardu Charm to foil their plans, a lot of removal to kill their non-Caryatid mana dudes, eight ways to interact with Sylvan Caryatid (four Crackling Doom, two Anger of the Gods and two End Hostilities), and two ways to deal with ascendency once it's in play (Utter End and Banishing Light). Be careful however: Banishing Light doesn't quite deal with the Ascendency forever as their Retraction Helix can free their enchantment for their turn and give them the window to kill you.

The only chance they have to kill you is to draw a very good sequence of cards in a row, and hope to refill their hand/find the right spells to kill you while you find your own way to kill them.

You'll be boarding more hand disruption, Read the Bones to dig for it, and a faster clock. The only card you really have to worry about it Swan Song.

+2 Read the Bones
+2 Thoughtseize
+1 Anger of the Gods
+3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
+1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

-3 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
-2 End Hostilities
-4 Chained to the Rocks


Vs. Green Devotion

This matchup is pretty good as the deck is extremely vulnerable to End Hostilities. The game will usually be a bit grindy until the point you start activating your Planeswalkers. You're not under a ton of pressure as Polukranos is something you can deal with pretty easily, so you have a lot of time to set up your game plan. You can however lose to a well-timed silver bullet (such as Garruk, Apex Predator), as they usually have one or two in the main and maybe a couple more after board.

+1 Thoughtseize
+2 Read the Bones
+1 End Hostilities
+1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

-2 Anger of the Gods
-3 Lightning Strikes


Vs. Abzan

Abzan is hardly a bad matchup. There are a lot of different versions of the deck around, but they are all quite vulnerable to the same thing: End Hostilities. The games usually go long, with you drawing extra cards with Chandra. The sideboard plan is about the same as against Green Devotion but you add a Resolute Archangel to give you a way to gain life and get out of reach of a Siege Rhino.

+1 Thoughtseize
+2 Read the Bones
+1 End Hostilities
+1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
+1 Resolute Archangel

-2 Anger of the Gods
-4 Lightning Strikes


Vs. UB Control

Some of the teams decided to go for UB control at the PT. Not a matchup we were too happy to face overall, but I don't think it's actually that bad. They have a lot of counters and you have very few threats. However, you can time your hand disruption and have one of them resolve and go all the way. You add more threats (Brimaz) and hand disruption, and hope you get under their counters (see game three of my match against Cuneo).

+2 Thoughtseize
+2 Read the Bones
+1 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
+3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos

-4 Chained to the Rocks
-2 End Hostilities
-2 Anger of the Gods


Vs. Mardu Midrange

Game one is usually pretty easy. They're packing a lot of creatures that you can kill super easily and your spells are just better. After board, they become a control deck with sometimes a lot of specific cards that you're not running like Hero's Downfall or Glare of Heresy. It becomes a control mirror, and the sideboarding is pretty hard to do. Depending on what you see, you can take out the Angers, the End Hostilities, and maybe some Lightning Strikes. You might also want to take out your white enchantments. You'll usually want to bring in Resolute Archangel, Read the Bones, maybe an extra Thoughtseize. There's no definite sideboard plan for this matchup.

I went 6-4 with the deck, which wasn't bad considering I learned how to play the deck on the spot. It feels like I could have won two of the matches I lost (not sure, but it's the taste I have left in my mouth) had I sideboarded more correctly. I beat Abzan x3, Jeskai, Mardu Midrange, and UB and lost to Jeskai x2, Jeskai Ascendency and Mardu Midrange.

The team did pretty well with the deck: Pierre, Tim, and Jérémy all cashed while Melissa and Roberto failed to make day two. I'm not sure what I would change in the deck but I would probably try to fit another Sarkhan somewhere in the 60, and possibly the Resolute Angel if I feel Jeskai is getting more popular. I would also probably play the same deck if I had to play the Pro Tour again, or have to play a standard GP this weekend. With two Abzan decks in the Top 4 of the Pro Tour, I expect this deck to be a popular choice and our deck is no competition for Abzan.

28th place is a decent finish. It's not the Top 8 I feel I'm gonna have to post soon, but I'm fine with it for now.

I'm going to use the next ten days to enjoy Hawaii and our honeymoon in Maui. As for the monored deck I mentioned above, I'll try to write about it as soon as I can.

Cheers!

Raph

Twitter: @hahamoud
Facebook : Raphael.levy.mtg