PT Portland... The last Pro Tour of the season and for that reason the most important one. I only needed Top 75 and that probably made me a lot more nervous than I should have been. It was like playing not to lose instead of playing to win. Maybe it doesn't sound different, but that state of mind isn't the one you need to have when entering a tournament, especially with high stakes. It was tough to get rid of, and I don't think I've played in a tournament more nervous than I actually was at that PT.

So you already know a bit about our preparation (see previous article). Team Revolution Jérémy Dezani, Pierre Dagen, Timothée Simonot, Samuele Estratti, Brad Nelson, Joel Larsson, Daniel Antoniou, Vidianto Wijaya, and Melissa De Tora met in Providence and then in Portland to playtest and come up with a deck we'd be comfortable playing and that would be adapted to the format.

We had in mind that the deck we would end up playing would be good at least against Monoblack Devotion/BW Midrange, and in the best case as well against UW/Esper and Monoblue Devotion.

So we started brewing, and threw all our new decks in the gauntlet. GW also made its appearance, mostly because it performed well in SCG Opens the weeks before, but I hated it on a personal level, and no one else was very fond of the deck. After a week and a half, we couldn't find anything we were really happy with. I would have done anything not to play UW or Esper myself as I really don't feel very comfortable playing Sphinx's Revelation in a format where everyone knows how to play against it, with me having no experience with the deck whatsoever, and I really didn't like Monoblack Devotion.

For a while, RW Burn was an option, but the sideboards of most decks were more than scary. I'm a big fan of burn decks (see previous article), and even I wasn't convinced I should play that.

The answer came from Brad Nelson who showed up at the breakfast of the Oxford Suite lobby with a monored deck suggested by Tom Ross.

We threw it against the control decks. Nothing had better results against these decks. It would not just beat them, it would absolutely destroy them. We then tried sideboarded games. While it was a little harder, we were still far ahead.

Then we tried it against Jund Monsters. We crushed it. Not like 55/45, no. Something ridiculous like 80/20. The sideboard was very scary though, but Brad convinced us that the Jund deck he had was the hardest version to beat for us, and packed way more removal spells than your average Jund Monsters deck.

We then thought that the monoblue matchup and GW matchup must be awful. It turned out they were tough, but far from unwinnable. We played pre-side and post-side, worked hard to find the version that would be fine against these decks while keeping our advantage against control decks. We also figured out ways to beat them after sideboard.

DECKID=1209894

While red sligh decks existed in standard before M15, the addition of Stoke the Flames and Goblin Rabblemaster made a significant improvement and made Monored Beatdown a viable archetype.

This is not your average monoted creature deck. It has the potential to punish any slow draw very quickly, and is also very resilient (unlike most red beatdown decks). Its set of burn spells gives you a lot of reach to finish the game or take care of a big blocker. The Pump spells allow you to overpower bigger blockers too.


The Creatures:

4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Firedrinker Satyr
4 Rakdos Cackler
3 Legion Loyalist

The Foundry Street Denizens, Firedrinker Satyr s and Rakdos Cacklers pretty much have the same purpose: hit hard, starting on turn two. They all have different upsides : Rakdos Cackler isn't vulnerable to Ultimate Price and offers two points of toughness, Firedrinker can attack into a Sylvan Caryatid and actually kill it, Foundry Street Denizen, AKA "Denise" as it's been renamed in testing, can attack for three or more damage early in the game and later with Rabblemaster. It's also a Goblin, something to keep in mind for later.

15 one-drops in total, but could easily be 16. Some people asked us if we were only playing three Legion Loyalist because we couldn't find enough. On Thursday before the PT, we bought all the Loyalists from the stores on site. Tim and Pierre had to travel all around town to find stores who had some to sell.

Legion Loyalist is an incredible weapon to fight off blockers and tokens. Token creatures appear in almost every deck: Soldiers in UW/Esper, Wurms, Soldiers and Elementals in GW, Elementals again in Monoblue, Rats in Monoblack Devotion/BW Midrange, Satyrs in Jund. And that's just for one line of its text. It has haste, which makes up for its low power as you can play it on turn one and hit for a couple of points if you have nothing else to play, but most importantly it would trigger Battalion more easily (both its own and Firefist Striker's). The first strike and trample abilities really shine when in pair with Goblin Rabblemaster (we'll cover all of that in a bit).

3 Firefist Striker
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
2 Ash Zealot

While four Burning-Tree Emissary were auto-included in a deck where you want to deploy your forces early in the game, we weren't sure for the numbers of the other two creatures. Ash Zealot is a good creature against control, attacking the turn after they wipe your board with a Supreme Verdict or a Drown in Sorrow and being able to attack into a Mutavault without trading. Firefist Striker keeps an opposing creature from blocking, protecting your team from chump attacking to sneak some damage. It's extremely relevant when facing Desecration Demon when you can't afford to sacrifice a creature. The other big difference between these two creatures is their casting costs. One costs RR, the other 1R. Even with 18 Mountains, the difference is super relevant. You often open hands with a Mountain and a Mutavault, and you can't cast Ash Zealot for a while. You can't chain Burning-Tree Emissary and Ash Zealot, but you can chain BTE and Firefist Striker, which is a better play than BTE + a one-drop. Jérémy and I decided to go for three Strikers and two Zealot, while the rest of the team stuck to Brad's version with three Zealots and two Firefist Strikers.

3 Rubblebelt Maaka

You need to be able to overpower blockers for little cost. Rubblebelt Maaka does just that, allowing you to attack into Courser of Kruphix, killing it if it blocks and saving your creature in the process. It rarely happens that you play it as a Hill Giant but you never know.

4 Goblin Rabblemaster

Here we are, the real MVP of the deck. You usually expect a lot from an aggro deck's top curve. Well, Goblin Rabblemaster never disappoints. For three mana, you have a 2/2 that brings a 1/1 with haste the turn it comes into play, and the next turn, he and his two fellows will attack for six in total. On an empty board, when both players are looking for a way to break through, that's quite the threat. It reminds me a little bit of Hero of Bladehold, as it will be attacking for seven damage in total the turn after you played it (one on the first turn, and six on the next turn).

The downside of the Rabblemaster is that it forces your other goblins to attack every turn, that means not only the token will have to get into the red zone, but also your Denises and Legion Loyalists. Therefore there are a lot of strategic decisions you have to make when you play the Rabblemaster; you can play it post combat so your goblins won't have to chump attack that turn, or you can use Stoke the Flames after the Goblin Token arrives and tap it to convoke the burn spell, so you'll be able to attack with one more creature on the next turn.

It does get the +1/+0 bonus for each goblin attacking, so he's not just a taskmaster sending Denise to the Slaughter, he gets the bonus then too. Along with a Legion Loyalist (which will also grant it the bonus), it can become a large first strike, trample monster, that can't be killed in combat. What happens is that if your opponent ever asks how big your Rabblemaster is, it usually means it's too late, that he doesn't have any way to destroy it with a removal spell and that he'll be taking a lot of damage.

Oh yeah, and don't forget Mutavault is also a goblin...


The Spells:

3 Lightning Strike
4 Stoke the Flames
1 Titan's Strength

Lightning Strike is a polyvalent spell that will give you some reach to finish off your opponent or take care of a blocker. The main target for this is usually Nightveil Specter.

Stoke the Flames deals an extra damage while costing a little more mana. The convoke ability is an option to keep your goblins from chump attacking. It deals with Courser of Kruphix and Blood Baron of Vizkopa, or just deals a lot of damage for just one card.

Titan's Strength is the fourth pump spell. It is not a creature like Rubblebelt Maaka and the bonus isn't as big but it has other uses. It allows you to scry and dig for either a second or third land in the early game or just an extra threat in the later game, it gives you a way to answer Domestication in game one (pump your creature and get it back), it counters Last Breath and it saves one of your guys from Drown in Sorrow.

Brad decided to play four Rubblebelt Maakas and zero Titan's Strength, Jérémy and I preferred versatility.


The Lands:

18 Mountains
3 Mutavault

The Mutavaults do a great job at providing extra threats while giving you the extra mana to cast your Rabblemasters. It will help you trigger battalion after a sweeper. It will sometimes be a little frustrating not to have a Mountain instead, but flooding with this deck is a very good way to lose the game. 18/3 is the right balance in this deck.


Sideboard and Matchups:

Vs. Esper

-3 Rubblebelt Maaka
-3 Stoke the Flames
-1 Firefirst Striker
-1 Ash Zealot

+2 Skullcrack
+2 Titan's Strength
+4 Eidolon of the Great Revel

Game one against Esper is very hard to lose. They basically need to have the perfect hand to beat you and that includes perfect mana, Supreme Verdict, and a good follow up. The other way you can lose that match is by having a bad draw (with only one land for example) or by flooding, but these are usually games you lose anyway. The deck is quite stable, so fortunately it doesn't happen too often. I'm just saying there's no "unloseable" matchup.

In this matchup, just like against most control matchups, your opponent is going to lower his curve and play cheap removal to match your creatures. You're going to take advantage of that and play Eidolon of the Great Revel in order to punish them for doing so. They have to either deal with the Eidolon quickly to not take too much damage, or play Supreme Verdict right away.

Skullcrack denies the life gain from Sphinx's Revelation, which is sometimes played for two or three in order to survive. As usual, this card has to be played at the right time.

Titan's Strength is there to help you deal with Jace, Architect of Thoughts. It's cheaper than Lightning Strike and allows you to filter your draws as any extra land draw in the late game is a pain.

The tricky part is what you take out. There are a lot of plans you could go for. You could take out more Ash Zealot as you board in more RR casting cost creatures and you don't want to have too many of them in your deck.

Stoke in Flames isn't at its best in this matchup as it just an expensive Lightning Strike here that you'll only play targeting your opponent. Your creatures will be busy attacking...or being dead, so you'll need to actually tap lands to cast it, and if you have four lands and you're not attacking with Mutavaults it's usually a bad sign.

You don't want to have too many pump spells in this matchup, so you can take out the Maakas for the Titan's Strength.

Vs. UW

Same as above.

The Matchup is a tad bit harder (while still being a great matchup), as they aren't fighting as much with their mana as Esper. The Nyx-Fleece Ram could be somewhat relevant, but you have ways to overpower it (Rams can't really block Rabblemasters), and Firefist Striker prevents it from blocking.

Vs. Monoblack Devotion

-2 Ash Zealot
-3 Lightning Strike (keep them if they're playing Nightveil Specter) or -3 Rubblebelt Maaka
-1 Stoke the Flames

+4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
+2 Titan's Strength

Monoblack Devotion is a great matchup as well. You have way too many threats for them to handle and the only real problem you have is Drown in Sorrow. You pretty much win every game they don't have one, and since they aren't sideboarding in the full four, you're far ahead. Expect black sideboards to have more in the future if the deck gets more popular.

Titan's Strength helps you fight both Drown in Sorrow (by saving one of your creatures) and Pharika's Cure.

Make sure you know how the interaction works between Goblin Rabblemaster and Desecration Demon: you can't sacrifice the token that comes into play to tap the Demon on the same turn, as your trigger happens first and resolves after the demon's.

Also remember that Legion Loyalist keeps the Pack Rat Tokens from blocking.

When they're running Lifebane Zombie, make sure you play your Burning-Tree Emissary first so they don't hit a free card against you.

Vs. Orzhov Control

-2 Ash Zealot
-3 Lightning Strike
-3 Rubblebelt Maaka

+4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
+2 Titan's Strength
+2 Mizzium Mortars

This is probably your best matchup. They pain themselves with their mana, don't have wrath (except maybe Drown in Sorrow after board), they can't gain life with Grey Merchant, and you can easily take out Blood Baron of Vizkopa with either Stoke the Flames or Mizzium Mortars (or even a pump spell, but keep in mind Rakdos Cackler is black).

Obzedat is quite tough to cast and even then, it will rarely blink as it will need to hold the fort, so its lifegain ability is close to irrelevant.

Vs. Jund Monsters

-3 Lightning Strike
-2 Ash Zealot
-3 Foundry Street Denizen

+2 Titan's Strength
+ 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
+2 Mizzium Mortars

Once again, a pretty easy game one. If you have a decent draw, and they don't have too many Golgari Charm, it's hard to lose.

After board, they bring in more removal spells, Golgari Charms, and they will rely on their Sylvan Caryatids, Coursers, and other big creatures to make sure they hold your attacks. Your sideboard plan is to overpower these blockers with your pump spells (you'll then have six), and punish them for their cheap spells ( Eidolon of the Great Revel). You take out a couple of Denises as it won't survive Golgari Charm or a fight with a Courser, even with Titan's Strength.

Remember to play your Firedrinkers first as it's the only creature that can attack into a Caryatid without being blocked.

Vs. Monoblue Devotion

-2 Ash Zealot
-2 Foundry Street Denizen
-3 Rubblebelt Maaka
-2 Stoke the Flames

+2 Dynacharge
+2 Mizzium Mortars
+2 Magma Spray
+2 Titan's Strength
+1 Legion Loyalist

Ok, here come the hard matchups. They have cards that definitely annoy us. On the top of the list, of course, is the pro red Master of Waves. We don't have a way to deal with it at all; one could argue that we could bring in Skullcrack to fight it (if they block with it, play Skullcrack and its protection won't save it from taking damage), but it's a little far-fetched as Skullcrack won't do anything the rest of the time. Frostburn Weird stops most of our team, Judge's Familiar trades for our one-drops and slows down our beatdown.

They are mostly playing pre-sideboarded against us in game one as Tidebinder Mage is there specifically to fight red and green decks.

You can win the matchup though. What we figured out is that it really depends on which part of their deck they'll see, and what kind of beatdown you'll offer. We played games where they had the perfect turn 1-2-3 into Master of Waves, and still lost to your Rabblemaster/Loyalist draw. Legion Loyalist is the key card that will help you win the matchup. It will allow you to ignore the tokens created by Master of Waves.

Unless you have your Rabblemaster/Loyalist draw early in the game, you'll need to do a few things to win. That usually requires you to keep their devotion low by killing their creatures (with extra removal spells) while building your army. Magma Spray deals with Tidebinder Mage and Judge's Familiar, Mizzium Mortars with Nightveil Specter and Frostburn Weird.

When the board is either stabilized or you have more creatures than your opponent, just launch the assault with a Dynacharge backup. It usually deals more than enough damage.

Dynacharge and Titan's Strength also protect your creatures from being stolen by Domestication (keep in mind you can only play Dynacharge on a creature you control, so if it's already gone to your opponent's side, it's too late).

Vs. GW

-4 Rakdos Cackler
-1 Burning-Tree Emissary
-1 Firedrinker Satyr
-1 Titan's Strength

+2 Mizzium Mortars
+1 Legion Loyalist
+2 Magma Spray
+2 Dynacharge

Just like against Monoblue, the game will stall for a while. They will stay back in fear of the counter attack, until they can attack safely with a giant monster. After board you have ways to break the stalemate with Loyalist + Dynacharge, or even an overloaded Mizzium Mortars (games tend to last long). They rely a lot on their token creatures (Wurm, Soldiers, Elementals), so Loyalist is a trump card. Better if you can hold it as long as possible for the surprise attack.

Rakdos Cackler is your worst card here. It gets blocked by Soldier of the Pantheon, and even gives your opponent life when you play it.

With Jackson Cunningham running four Unflinching Courage, unlike a lot of GW decklists before the tournament that were only running two, the sideboarded games might become a little harder, especially if people expect Rabble Red.

Nine out of 10 members of Team Revolution decided to run Rabble Red at the PT. Seven made Day 2 and all seven cashed. I could have ended with a better personal record in Constructed, 5-4-1, beating Orzhov Control twice, GW, Monoblack Devotionm and RG Devotion. Losing to UW, Esper, Monoblue and Monoblack, probably throwing away one of them. I felt kinda bad about losing against the good matchups, but as I said, there's no unloseable matchups.

The overall results for the deck are outstanding, and it's really a shame none of us Top 8ed. The fact that Jérémy missed the cut for Top 8 will probably keep the deck under the radar for a bit, until someone starts winning with it at the next Standard GP in Utrecht or in the WMCQs.

In the end, Jérémy made 9th place and became your 2014 Player of the Year, Timothée Simonot made Top 16, getting all his tickets for next year as he achieved Gold status, Melissa made Top 25 and qualified for at least the next two Pro Tours, Daniel and Brad made Top 50 while Joel made Top 75.

I finished 29th, which means Top 50 these days (a couple of years ago, back in the day, you'd have said Top 32 and that meant a lot more!). Anyway, 29th indeed means Top 75 and that gave me enough points to achieve Platinum Status this year.

The feeling I had when I finally had the last win at my grasp, that my opponent scooped with lethal damage on the board... it was such a relief. It was a very tough two months, looking forward and fearing the tournament at the same time. I was actually more looking forward to this week right now, after the tournament, when the pressure is finally gone and I can sleep at night again.

I'd like to thank a lot of people who helped me reach my goal this season:
-Team Revolution: we got to a point where people can't deny we're here to stay and will rock the scene even more next year. Hanging out with the team becomes more and more fun. Love you guys.
-All contributors, hosts and sponsors who help us worry about crushing tournaments. Frank Lepore, Max Protection, playtesters at home....
-You guys for supporting us and believing is us every time.
-And of course Monica for always being supportive...

Next season starts next weekend with GP Portland where I'll be teaming with Denniz Rachid and POY Jérémy Dezani. I will then continue my long journey away from home and will land after 33 hours of flight in Johannesburg where I'll be marrying the most awesome chick in the world...

Until next time!

Raph

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