On [this week's] Make the Play Monday my beloved readers were greeted by this smiling face:
Pro Tour and Grand Prix Champion Osyp Lebedowicz was playing a fun game between rounds with his new RW Heroic deck....
(The aforementioned deck):
...and I saw a pretty surprising opening turn sequence; Osyp's hand consisted of:
PlainsDragon MantleCoordinated AssaultFavored HopliteMonastery SwiftspearMonastery SwiftspearMana Confluence
How did he approach that first turn?
"I led with Mana Confluence and Favored Hoplite because I wanted to maximize the damage my opening hand could potentially produce on turns two and three. While I could have led with a Plains and not taken a point of damage, I would have limited my turn two options. Had I drawn a red source I wouldn't have been able to cast both Monastery Swiftspear & Dragon Mantle (which would have been a total of four damage).
"While you want to avoid taking unnecessary damage in general, with aggressive decks, you need to sequence your turns in such a way to maximize your 'potential' opportunities. Had I been passive and played a Plains, I might have saved myself a point of damage, but if I drew a red source I would have lost out on an additional two points of damage that turn, which could have cost me the game down the road."
Osyp Lebedowicz's Play: Mana Confluence into Favored Hoplite.
The reason I thought this might be an interesting turn to explore was because of the non-matching / non-intuitive line that Osyp took.
I have to admit, I saw his hand and raised an eyebrow myself at the non-play of the Plains. I suppose that doing something like this Make the Play Monday -- highlighting the fact that the first turn might be unusual -- might prompt players to pause for a double take when they wouldn't have otherwise. Would all of you really passed on the Plains?
As Osyp said, he was going to play Favored Hoplite on the first turn...but avoided the default settings in most of our Magic: The Gathering brains is to avoid damage. To that end, Plains and a first turn Favored Hoplite seem like they should go together like peanut butter and chocolate.
As attractive as leading on Plains might be to dodge that Mana Confluence ping, Favored Hoplite is literally the only white card in our hand! We can't do anything with W on turn two! Unless we drew something along the lines of a Phalanx Leader the Plains land drop would have no text whatsoever.
Look at our casting costs:
Dragon Mantle (R)Coordinated Assault (R)Favored Hoplite (W)Monastery Swiftspear (R)Monastery Swiftspear (R)
There isn't so much as a colorless mana in the group. Nothing to do with that Plains outside of the Hoplite. So if we were stuck with Plains on the second turn there isn't even anything it can tap for!
So if you figured out that Mana Confluence was the right first-turn play, pat yourself on the head. You would have played the first turn better than I would have!
Alas, we can only reward two of you. For agreeing with this week's Celebrity Guest, John Tat-Daddy Tatian and Jake Jordan topdeck $25 TCGplayer gift certificates, each. Great job John Tat-Daddy Tatian and Jake Jordan!
Make sure you send a message (not a wall post) to our Facebook page - MTGatTCGplayer - to claim your prizes!
But that's not all!
As a bit of a bonus, I thought I'd share a little gamesmanship I ran myself recently.
Two weekends ago I played in the season's inaugural Standard Open.
I finished in the money with this:
I had an overwhelming record against Sylvan Caryatid / Courser of Kruphix decks and still managed to lose to two of them...0-1-1 on time in both cases. The GW version is less explosive than the GR version of Devotion but the card Banishing Light can handle basically any bomb permanent but Hornet Queen (and I had my own Hornet Queens), so I thought it was a good "take on all comers" deck for the first week of a new format. After that, Elspeth, Sun's Champion is about the most powerful semi-soft lock there is in Standard (again, outside of Hornet Queen). Elspeth can play pretty one-sided against opposing Siege Rhinos, World-Eaters, Dragons, and so on.
Case in point, I'm up a game in the win-and-get-paid tenth round. I win the first and my opponent gets a fast third-turn Stormbreath Dragon. I answer with a third-turn Elspeth, Sun's Champion... That he is not happy with. I blow up his Dragon. He makes another Dragon and kills Elspeth; I make a Hornet Queen to keep him off my back... He follows up with Polukranos and passes. Keep in mind he has the only 4/4 and 5/5 on the battlefield whereas I have a ton of 1/1s and so. So...second Elspeth, Sun's Champion → two dead Monstrous-capable monsters. Pretty good!
I figured my GW deck was a viable option, but like they say in poker, the worst hand at the table is the second-best hand. I started out the Open 0-1 to a Doomwake Giant deck and was simply thoroughly impressed. GW ultimately seemed like the bridesmaid to BG's princess-for-the-day.
Hornet Queen is the big spell for most Devotion decks in Standard. There are ramp-focused decks that just top up at four copies of Hornet Queen now!
It's tough to handle; kills Polukranos when they fight; survives and beats down an opposing Elspeth. Just great across the board.
Doomwake Giant spits on Hornet Queen.
Our five -- our card-drawing five -- basically kayos the best spell the opponent has available!
From my perspective if you aren't starting out on Elvish Mystic / Sylvan Caryatid / Courser of Kruphix you are probably handicapping yourself. It's not that other decks can't catch up... It's that you are basically spotting your opponent a 5/5.
So from where I am coming from, the goal should be to have the best Elvish Mystic / Sylvan Caryatid / Courser of Kruphix deck...which, at a minimum, means winning the mirror.
I played in a Grand Prix Trial on Tuesday.
Spoilers! I won.
It was five rounds of Swiss with a cut to Top 8... Which, let me tell you, is a bit of a day for a Tuesday, starting circa 7:30 PM. I am super bullish on playing in Grand Prix New Jersey next month so the byes mean a lot to me. There will be more Grand Prix Trials but I wanted to win this one because, you know, the Pro Tour is this week. It is entirely possible that Devotion isn't whiz-bang the best strategy, and that would be revealed at the end of this week.
But, prior to the Pro Tour?
I was pretty sure I had the best possible seventy-five relative to the information I had.
This is what I played:
This deck is obviously templated off of Ross Merriam's Top 8 deck from that same Open; I basically swapped out a card I generally dislike ( Nissa, Worldwaker) for a card I think is very good [and is also trump] ( Garruk, Apex Predator). Garruk gives the deck an important way to interact with dangerous permanents like Stormbreath Dragon; Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker; or somebody else's Doomwake Giant.
I also added one copy of Bow of Nylea as a singleton; it can gain life (I anticipated some aggression from Jeskai or Boros across the tables), but also has a cute combo with Polukranos. You can gain deathtouch by attacking, then "spray" tons of the opponent's potential blockers with one-point pings.
Like I said, I anticipated aggro being something I had to beat, so built a heavily anti-aggro sideboard with Nylea's Disciple and Whip of Erebos (try Whipping out some Nylea's Disciples). After two tournaments with Devotion based decks, I can tell you that four copies of Setessan Tactics is probably one too many.
Will Elvish Mystic / Sylvan Caryatid / Courser of Kruphix continue to be the best foundation for a Standard deck?
I guess we'll find out this weekend!
Thanks for reading.
Osyp Lebedowicz is a multiple Pro Tour and Grand Prix Top 8 competitor with big wins with Astral Slide and Affinity decks (among many others). He is one of the finest deck designers in the history of the game, as well as one of the most hilarious commentators and writers. Follow Osyp on Twitter at @osypl