Last weekend I played in an event in Brooklyn, NY. Based on my previous finishes, I was pretty sure I needed only three points to qualify for the Invitational of my choice.

I made Top 4!

This is the deck I played:

DECKID=1225601

Observant readers will probably recognize this deck -- or at least something very much like it -- from earlier / recent episodes of Make the Play Monday and Flores Rewards Friday.

The main differences between this version and what I may have posted before are the two main-deck Planeswalkers. I found myself a little bit wary of running out of threats against dedicated control (B/U Control in particular) so I cut the one-of Dragon Mantle and the fun-of Titan's Strength from my previous build for Chandra, Pyromaster.

The bit dilemma in my imagination was Chandra or Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker.

Multiple main-line decks play two copies of Chandra, Pyromaster main (e.g. Jeskai Ascendancy) but Brad Nelson played two copies of Sarkhan in his customizable R/W deck from Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir.

Ultimately I was concerned about the number of five drops in my deck (can't have too many fives, and I wasn't going to cut Wingmate Roc); plus a lot of matches come down to card advantage so I opted for the card that I thought would be most likely to pull me successfully ahead on cards: Chandra.

As for the sideboard I leveled down Deicide for Erase; my friend Patrick Chapin convinced me that being one mana is a compelling superpower for a card. Sorry, Deicide!

Finally I moved in Arc Lightning over the cuter Sands. Scouring Sands has more upside against many, many tokens… But Arc Lightning is the better card against Goblin Rabblemaster, Manta Ray, et al. Arc Lightning is just the more slot-efficient card.

The rest of the sideboard is just powerful cards: Planeswalkers or big removal.

This strategy is exceptional against Jeskai Ascendancy, which is one of the main reasons I chose it. Brimaz, King of Oreskos has a great head-to-head matchup against either Goblin Rabblemaster or Hordeling Outburst.

The other three drop in this deck is Heliod's Pilgrim. I am really taken with Heliod's Pilgrim and have tried to jam it into every which deck I can in Standard. Abzan? Make room for a Mountain! Mardu? Fits right in. Heliod's Pilgrim on three mana isn't the most impressive offensive body, but Heliod's Pilgrim on four feels positively Flametongue Kavu-ish. And while Heliod's Pilgrim hasn't got a hairy 4/4 form like Anafenza the Foremost; but any attack can trigger the Raid on Wingmate Roc.

Speaking of which...

The question of what to play on five is an interesting one in Standard. One opposition is Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker versus Stormbreath Dragon. Either is defensible; but I think Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is superior (not that you would play four copies). Standard has a small handful of hyper-specialized sorts of removal. One of them is Bile Blight; popular by default due to the absence of a legitimate Doom Blade but moreso due to Jeskai Ascendancy's tokens in recent weeks. Bile Blight isn't good against any of these fives. Another is Hero's Downfall. Hero's Downfall is fine against Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and excellent against Stormbreath Dragon. At least when considering Raid, though, Hero's Downfall is poor against Wingmate Roc. Murderous Cut is similar to Hero's Downfall… Still good against Stormbreath Dragon, still weak agianst Wingmate Roc, but even worse against Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. And then we have Elspeth, Sun's Champion. Sarkhan is great against Elspeth; Stormbreath Dragon ofthen just falls victim. But Wingmate Roc? Elspeth can't kill Wingmate Rocat all without special circumstances, whereas Wingmate Roc and its bird wingman can fly over all of Elspeth's tokens, no problem. Ultimately it seemed to me Wingmate Roc was where I wanted to be.

Briefly:

Round One - Jeskai Ascendancy

It would have been embarrassing to start off the tournament 0-1, getting exactly the matchup I had picked my deck for! Yet I dropped Game One!

Ultimately the Brimaz v. Hordeling Outburst matchup held up, with Chandra, Pyromaster playing good tag team. It is pretty common to set up with Brimaz, then follow up with Chandra, Pyromaster on turn four. Chandra picks off a token, and then Brimaz (and friend) match up well with the other two bodies. Vigilence is great here. 1-0

Round Two - Mardu Tokens

Managed to lose another Game One to a hyper-fast Mardu draw. Nothing but Hordeling Outbursts and Stoke the Flames(es)! The next two went the right way. Brimaz matches up well against both Hordeling Outburst and Goblin Rabblemaster provided they aren't destroying you with Stoke the Flames, and you can handle any of their big threats efficiently with Chained to the Rocks. 2-0

Round Three - Abzan Aggro

Abzan Aggro is another good reason to play R/W; luckily, Abzan Aggro seems to be the popular version of Abzan just now. Their early game stuff (Rakshasha Death Dealer and Fleecemane Lion) make for great target practice for Magma Jet and Lightning Strike… And unlike U/W Heroic, Abzan Aggro doesn't have Gods Willing to shake off the point removal. Chained to the Rocks is efficient against either of Abzan Aggro's 4/xs. Meanwhile you can be punching with your much more mana efficient threats. 3-0

Round Four - Abzan Aggro

I was looking to draw in after this round but dropped both Game One and Game Three. In Game One I had a kind of a Make the Play Monday moment… He knew 2/3 of my hand from a Thoughtseize, so there weren't going to be a lot of tricks. I could suicide my Seeker of the Way into his Fleecemane Lion to set up Raid on a Wingmate Roc or Lightning Strike it and swing for three lifelink. I opted for the second and he had a second Thoughtseize for my Wingmate Roc.

Game Three I thought I was an overwhelming favorite with active Chandra, Pyromaster and Elspeth, Sun's Champion against two Fleecemane Lions. He had an improbable sequence of Bile Blight, Drown in Sorrow, Bile Blight again, and Glare of Heresy (for my eventual Brimaz, King of Oreskos) to get in all from no cards in hand. We would rematch in the Top 8. 3-1

Round Five - G/R Monsters

I made a minor mistake in Game One that ended up costing me. My opponent played Fanatic of Xenagos. I had the option of making it 4/4 or giving it haste for a turn. I opted to give it haste as I had a Lightning Strike in hand. This was pointless as my mana was more-or-less spoken for for the next several turns. I never even got to Lightning Strike the 3/3 Fanatic of Xenagos (used my Chained to the Rocks anyway). That was four damage I didn't have to take, that set me up for his Crater's Claws.

Played much more conservatively against Fanatic of Xenagos in the next two. 4-1

Round Six - Jeskai Ascendancy

Last round was against SCG wunderkind AJ Kerrigan with Jeskai Ascendancy, for Top 8.

It was pretty uneventful, with me hitting Brimaz on-curve, and drawing all the Stoke the Flames in the world. 5-1

Top 8 - Abzan Aggro

This was a rematch from Round Four.

This time my draws were awesome and he failed to hit his 10-outer; basically almost any removal spell was going to get my Wingmate Roc off the table, but when he missed, I just attacked with 10 guys and immediately pulled out of life point danger.

… Which brings us to Top 4:

Sidisi Whip

I kept this hand in Game One:

Mountain
Mountain
Magma Jet
Lightning Strike
Seeker of the Way
Heliod's Pilgrim
Chained to the Rocks

I played Mountain and passed, leaving:

Mountain
Magma Jet
Lightning Strike
Seeker of the Way
Heliod's Pilgrim
Chained to the Rocks

My opponent played a first turn Thoughtseize.

What should he have taken?

This is Make the Play Monday!

As with every Make the Play Monday we think about Magic as a series of decisions. Every decision brings you nearer to or farther away from victory. By examining situations like this one (what card should you take with Thoughtseize on the first turn?) we can model behavior that will increase all of our chances at victory, long term.

Submit your answers in the comments below!

What should he have taken?

We will revisit this situation on Friday, when I bring a Celebrity Guest to give his commentary alongside my own thought process. One lucky reader who agrees with my play will win a $25 TCGPlayer.com gift certificate, and one agreeing with the Celebrity Guest's will, too.

Sound good?

Better play.

Chance at prizes.

Comments. Below. Go!

LOVE
MIKE