This weekend I had a rare Saturday off. Not a "day off" in the sense of having to work-work on a Saturday, but I usually have sole oversight of my kids while their mom takes a break. This weekend both of them got invited to a birthday party that ended up at a matinee of Matilda...and because there was a cancellation (who Cancels on getting to go to Matilda on someone else's dime?) my better half barned along too [how lucky].

So...free Saturday!

Surely there would be some awesome Magic tournament to win, right?

If this were almost any other weekend this month I could have been free and clear to travel to a WMCQ qualifier or the odd Invitational...but this weekend there was "only" Magic Origins Game Day.

I don't actually know the purpose of Game Day, but King's Games was holding a Constructed one. I must say I was a little disappointed as you can barely walk near King's Games without accidentally running into an Invitational Qualifier or some such but if Game Day was what I could play in, I guess it would be Game Day.

Coming off the Pro Tour I decided on playing Brian Kibler's GW deck that went 9-1 (if largely on lucky pairings v. hapless monored opponents and UR Ensoul Artifact decks where Unravel the AEther was so good).

DECKID=1246502

Kibler's deck is a good deal more nuanced than it might look at first blush. It is less a GW Aggro deck (as it is generally described) and more of a Pure Midrange deck in the parlance of Next Level Deckbuilding. Its best draws come off a first turn Elvish Mystic, and the emphasis is on high quality creatures at the two to three spot, generally leading off on Deathmist Raptor.

Deathmist Raptor trades with almost everything, and the abundance of megamorphs gives you tons of chances to extract value while playing a seemingly even game. There is an elegance to combat (like when you can flip Hidden Dragonslayer to slay an incoming Siege Rhino while netting a Raptor to block and kill its twin). The deck is great at both gumming up the floor and breaking through, rewarding the development of game states most opponents are simply not used to navigating.

I played about a dozen matches on MTGO in preparation and won basically all of them, though it often required using off-label parts of the buffalo. My teammates understandably queried how the deck was performing against Abzan Control and GR Devotion (predicted to be super popular decks). Typically winning requires you to lean on Tragic Arrogance as a catch-up because both those matchups are "similar card" decks, down to the notion of acceleration and, in Devotion's case, Elvish Mystic itself, but both are armed with better cards. Siege Rhino is the king of small ball and Dragonlord Atarka is the king-king overall, obviously.

Regardless, I went through my still-sorted-from-the-Pro-Tour Standard box and had most of Kibler's deck already.

I only needed about a dozen cards, but two of those were Ajani, Mentor of Heroes.

I got up on Saturday morning and reconsidered spending two to three times the price of admission on a card I would probably never play again for a tournament with almost no prize and switched mentally to Antonio Del Moral Leon's BG Demonic Pact deck:

DECKID=1246815

Now if I were playing the Pro Tour again, armed with everything I know today, I would probably just have played Exquisite Firecraft again, for most of the original reasons. But I have to say with nothing on the line there isn't much holding a body back from just crashing with Woodland Bellower and getting off every possible trick on Demonic Pact. Each Pact has your opponent slumping a little more in his chair, while navigating survival is fun, rewarding, and adrenaline pumping in a way no other Magic is right now. These are two of the most versatile and most powerful cards you can cast in Standard. Also, unlike the Kibler deck, I owned everything I needed already except for two copies of Invasive Species and some Unravel the AEthers (which is more or less like finding a crumpled up twenty in the pocket of your winter coat).

Did I mention all my Standard was still sorted from the Pro Tour? Took about three minutes to make Antonio's deck!

I did however make some changes, specifically to the sideboard, with respect to the Pro Tour finalist decks.

4 Unravel the AEther - Simply the best card against the Ensoul Artifact deck, and a big reason for Kibler's success in his Swiss rounds. This card can deal with the ostensibly indestructible Darksteel Citadel itself, answer Hangarback Walker with no loss of card advantage, and unlike the solutions from some of the other colors, target Thopter Spy Network.

2 Pharika's Cure - One Pharika's Cure made all the difference in Matt Sperling's Abzan deck...two would be awesome! The BG Pact deck already has some decent maindeck resistance to red aggression...Courser of Kruphix is a source of both life gain and solid blocking; there are several fast two mana removal cards, appropriate to the destruction of both Thunderbreak Regents and Goblin Tokens (and all the now-more-conventional threats in between). But I felt like the combination of life gain and speed of Pharika's Cure would give my deck some valuable oomph.

Ultimately...

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How does this deck work?

The BG Pact deck plays many very good cards. Courser of Kruphix, Den Protector, and Hero's Downfall are widely played in a variety of archetypes. They are just straightforward, highly effective, and relative to their costs. They serve as the center of the deck.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer and Languish are two of several new cards to be included in a classic BG shell from Magic Origins and, again, are exactly the same kind of profile for a "good stuff" deck that largely plays a Pure Midrange game of Magic. Nissa is a source of card advantage (and smoothing out mana) early, that takes the game over later as an active Planeswalker. Languish requires no preamble: It's exactly the hero this city needs and deserves at this time, putting the hurt on longtime format stalwart Abzan Aggro while giving less controlling decks a valuable tool against Dragonlord Ojutai playing tap-out mode.

The key differentiating strategy here comes from the two other aforementioned Magic Origins cards: Demonic Pact and Woodland Bellower.

Demonic Pact is the real star of the show; it has been called "basically Cruel Ultimatum" on one well regarded Magic podcast and I think the comparison is apt. For four mana -- a discount by almost half -- you get Divination, Warleader's Helix, and Mind Rot...all you have to do is not lose the game.

That's where Woodland Bellower comes in!

Patrick Chapin and I were on this pair like popcorn as soon as we saw the cards spoiled. It turns out if you just go and get Invasive Species with your Woodland Bellower you can return Demonic Pact to your hand before dying to it; that is much Much MUCH better than getting Reclamation Sage (which is also fine though) because you can replay the Pact for more and more Cruel Ultimatum action.

It turns out people often play way differently when there is a Demonic Pact in play, so you don't necessarily have to worry about the Mind Rot part (because they will essentially Mind Rot themselves so you lose some action). That is actually pretty convenient if you look at it like this:

Turn 4 Demonic Pact
Turn 5 Warleader's Helix you, drop fifth land
Turn 6 Desperately Divination into a solution; drop sixth land, Woodland Bellower into Invasive Species, etc., etc.

That said, I highly recommend getting all your modes on Demonic Pact; just know there is no "I'll Disenchant this on my fourth upkeep at instant speed" mode; the "lose the game" text goes on the stack at the beginning of your upkeep and removing the source of an effect in Magic does not Remove the effect itself.

While each card is included in the BG Pact deck for some ostensible specific purpose (bullet, Tutor, Pact Insurance, etc.) the nature of flexible spells is to allow you to play many different ways.

For instance I used Invasive Species as an eleven mana Annihilate (three mana Invasive Species returning Den Protector; three mana face down, two mana flip to rebuy Hero's Downfall, netting a body), a second Ugin activation in a turn (which ain't cheap), and even a mini Tutor (picking up and replaying a Temple of Malady).

Similarly, just because cards are printed to imply particular lines doesn't mean you have to do exactly as they ask. Case in point, on many cases I played Nissa, Vastwood Seer with a bunch of lands already in play and found my Forest...but rather than playing it, ran out a Temple in my hand. Such a Temple can give you valuable information about whether to [+1] or [-2] (in addition to sandbagging your next land drop). Nissa can also be great with Courser of Kruphix, with her shuffle giving you a free look at a free land drop.

So anyway, BG is what I played.


Round One - Nick, with Abzan Control

The first two games were super interesting. In the first we both went to six but he drew all the Nissas and Coursers. I played an attrition game, which has no long term viability against a foe who is drawing more cards than you. Eventually he got me with a string of Rhinos.

I sideboarded:
+1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
+1 Crux of Fate
+1 Duress
+1 Liliana Vess
+1 Read the Bones
+1 Nissa, Worldwaker

-2 Bile Blight
-2 Languish
-2 Ultimate Price

The black removal isn't that good, especially when the opposing player's best creature is Siege Rhino. Ultimate Price can't target it and neither Bile Blight nor Languish is likely to kill it. Sideboarding this way gives the opponent a little extra space to set up with Nissa, Vastwood Seer but I kept Hero's Downfall and can still take over a very long game with the extra Ugin.

The second game was quite strange. I got the cards you would generally want - Nissa, other Nissa, Lili, and Ugin - but that's it. I made a pretty cool play of untapping three Forest with my big Nissa and used them to Hero's Downfall his little Nissa thanks to Ugin. I later traded small Nissas with us both at tons of land because flipping mine would have cost me a card.

Unfortunately beyond my Planeswalker bombs I drew nothing else and started to slip behind despite getting to +1 for several consecutive turns thanks to Liliana. He had a string of Rhinos and Rocs to get rid of my permanents, with Ugin's hands tied for fear of blowing up the other 'Walkers. Then they were all gone. Then we were in trouble.

A fortunately drawn Den Protector gave me something to do with all that land, and when it looked darkest due to Dragonlord Dromoka, I ripped the one Crux of Fate, setting up an exciting thirteen-mana turn riding a revitalized Ugin.

Game three was one sided with me playing the beatdown and Nick jammed up enough to try to race with a turn two Den Protector.

1-0


Round Two - Yakov with Sultai Control

Here's a Make the Play Monday moment:

Yakov started off game one with a mulligan to five. I was greeted with:

Languish
Silumgar, the Drifting Death
Satyr Wayfinder
Opulent Palace
Polluted Delta

What do you take with Thoughtseize?

While it is advantageous to open on a Thoughtseize when the opponent is starting off down two, I didn't know what Yakov was on and kept a two-land hand with mostly Bile Blights and Ultimate Prices.

Anyway, I took Satyr Wayfinder.

Unfortunately Yakov pulled lands perfectly.

My next play was an attempted Demonic Pact...which was met with Dissolve. It quickly dawned on me that I was going to lose to the Silumgar I left him.

My next attempts at Pacts met maindeck Sultai Charm!

My saving grace in the first was that we went past turn 11 and Yakov never drew a Dig Through Time whereas I resolved both my Den Protectors. He basically had to answer everything one-for-one. On the last turn I was able to stick Ugin and made it.

I sideboarded:
+1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
+1 Crux of Fate
+2 Duress
+1 Liliana Vess
+1 Read the Bones
+1 Nissa, Worldwaker

-2 Bile Blight
-2 Ultimate Price
-2 Languish
-1 Reclamation Sage

I answered Yakov's Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver with a Hero's Downfall and quickly resolved Demonic Pact. It was just too much in terms of resource materiel; Dig Through Time was too slow.

2-0


Round Three - Mike with GR Devotion

I screwed around with the Canadians at the Pro Tour (who played a Sultai Pact deck) and they said that whatever else you want to say about Pact, it is great against Devotion. I was pretty sure I was going to have a good matchup here.

Devotion has two broad kinds of cards: do-nothings and uncastables. A do-nothing is their best card ( Elvish Mystic) but you can't draw too many do-nothings or you'll do nothing. At the same time, their bombs cost a bazillion so if you don't draw enough do-nothings you'll just have a hand full of cards you can't cast.

Some decks can't punish Devotion for half their cards; Sylvan Caryatid (one of Devotion's most erratic cards) is actually unbelievable against fast aggro decks defensively, for instance.

Here, though, you can just let a Devotion deck have all its mana and spend your Ultimate Prices and Hero's Downfalls on a narrow count of actual threats. The only tricky card is Dragonlord Atarka (which can't be targeted with Ultimate Price); for the most part you can manage their resources.

Both games were pretty academic from my side. I got his first Courser of Kruphix with Reclamation Sage, and Woodland Bellower and Den Protector kept me ahead on cards.

I sideboarded:
+1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
+1 Crux of Fate
+1 Read the Bones

-2 Bile Blight
-1 Thoughtseize

Thoughtseize is actually pretty good against Devotion early. You can take a two mana accelerator on the first turn to slow them to glass, or potentially steal their only threat. However Thoughtseize is a terrible late game pull because you might be drawing it after they've already exploded on mana and emptied their hand. I'd rather focus on resource exchanges and the battlefield because they generally give you time + can't win any other way.

3-0

As the sole 3-0 I could ostensibly have drawn into the tournament win, but in the parlance of Lan D. Ho, I Came to Game [Day]!


Round Four - Anatoly with Jeskai

Game one I mulliganed into a playable-but-not-good hand. Anatoly had the play and got off a second turn Jace; my only answer was going to be Languish. He played a third turn Raise the Alarm but pretty much stood pat.

I made the obligatory Languish attempt (two-for-one?) but he responded with a Stoke the Flames + Jace activation, flipping him.

I'd say that was the beginning of the end but the game went on forever and I felt alive during most of it. That was probably an illusion because he hit three Treasure Cruises. :/

After many long turns he finished me with another Stoke the Flames.

I sideboarded:
+2 Drown in Sorrow
+2 Duress
+2 Pharika's Cure

-1 Languish
-4 Thoughtseize
-1 Reclamation Sage

I sideboarded completely wrong and Anatoly would have had to drop the ball badly for me to win. He attacked me with Mantis Rider and seemed to be on a creatures / burn plan in the first, so I didn't realize he was playing Jeskai Ascendancy.

Anatoly got double Jeskai Ascendancy so even though I could keep his creatures dead for the most part he eventually got to a spot where he could attack me from 19 in just two attacks.

I had some hope when I stuck Demonic Pact and killed his Jace with it (gaining four life) but it was all for naught when he stopped my follow up blocker with Ojutai's Charm returning the aforementioned Jace from his graveyard.

3-1

Conclave Naturalists is actually a playable card, remember!

So I guess I should have drawn? I ended up in second place, the winner of a promo Languish but down a new playmat. I hope you enjoyed this brief look at an exciting new deck.

Post-Mortem:

● Definitely got deck choice right! GW Megamorph would have matched up poorly with the Abzan Control I played first round, probably the GR Devotion, and possibly the Sultai Control deck (the first three matches I won). I have no idea if it would have been better against the Jeskai but I would probably have sideboarded wrong anyway. :)
● My sideboard changes never came up. Weird that the two PT finalist decks were not more popular in the tournament.
Would I play BG again? It depends on what kind of tournament we are talking about. If I were playing in a PT I would for sure go back to red at this point, but for a fun / local tournament I think it is a fine choice, both fun and powerful.

LOVE
MIKE