For the last few Pro Tours, and since the dissolution of Team Revolution, I've been hopping from team to team, occasionally working solo or with one or two people. I've been looking for the right team, the right people to test with, and the freedom to be at home a little longer to take care of other important things.
For PT Shadows over Innistrad, Jérémy Dezani was approached by Tomoharu Saito, who offered him a spot on team MTGMintCard. He insisted that I came along as well. So I decided to give it a try.
The team is internationally-based, with players from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Italy and the United States. Since GP Barcelona and GP Beijing were happening at the same time, we decided to test separately for the first week, one side in China, the other in Spain. I met with Jérémy, Thierry Ramboa, Christian Calcano and Andrea Mengucci in Barcelona a couple of days before GP Barcelona.
Heading into the Pro Tour, it became clear that two decks were dominant: Humans and Bant Company.
We tried many decks, and none of them were convincingly beating both of them. The decks made to beat Humans couldn't beat Bant Company. And even then, they would not manage to win after sideboard: Secure the Waste and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar proved to be too good. Humans attacked on too many different angles.
Our idea of the format at that point was to either:
Jérémy put together an Ally deck featuring Collective Company and March from the Tomb to find Kalastria Healers and Zulaport Cutthroats. The concept was simple: Stall the game with cards like Catacomb Sifters and Matter Reshapers while gathering Allies, in play or in your graveyard, draining your opponent little by little. After a couple of turns, you'd be able to Reanimate a few Allies, drain for a lot with Kalastria Healer triggers, or by sacrificing your creatures with a Nantuko Husk and using Zulaport Cutthroat to drain again. Among the Ally ranks we had Sylvan Advocate, which served as a good blocker against humans and a way to deal the first and last chunks of damage.
It was a good concept for a deck and did well against Humans, but the games took long and the deck was vulnerable to Declaration in Stone (as you needed to line up multiple Healers or Cutthroats). And worse, your starting hands could look absolutely horrendous — a bunch of 1/1's or 1/ 2's and lands, or March from the Tomb and no Allies.
We started changing a few cards, adding Archangel Avacyn that worked great with Nantuko Husk and Catacomb Sifter, as you can transform it the turn after you cast it. The more we looked into the deck, the more we felt the Ally part of the deck was unnecessary and that a package of good stuff in Abzan colors would just work better. This is what we ended up with:
The deck works as a Company decks with a few tricks in its sleeves.
In the first version of the deck, we had Beastcaller Savant, which helped to drain with Kalastria Healer and cast Archangel Avacyn (an Ally). Unfortunately, we couldn't cast Collected Company with it. When we took out the Ally package, we replaced them with Deathcap Cultivators, that can fuel a turn-3 Collected Company and fix your mana a bit. Delirium rarely comes up, but sometimes it does.
Sylvan Advocate is by far the best two-drop a green deck can have. It blocks in the first few turns and becomes a huge threat in the later game. Its ability to pump your creature-lands also works great in this deck.
There are options with two-drops for the deck, not all of them are viable. Since the deck is a little mana-hungry, we wanted something that helped us get to 4-5 mana without having to play another mana creature such as Leaf Gilder. Elvish Visionary works as an early blocker, provides you with an extra card when you play it or when you hit it with a Collected Company, and combos in the late game when you can blink it with Eldrazi Displacer. There's also a case for Duskwatch Recruiter at the two-drop slot that we didn't have too much faith in.
In an Abzan manabase, Matter Reshaper is easy to cast. Four Caves of Koilos, four Llanowar Wastes, and a couple of colorless lands do the trick. It fits the whole strategy of the deck by blocking and providing some card advantage along the way. It's a great way to recover from a slow start, and along with Nantuko Husk, you can get a surprise pump for the Zombie Insect. It's even better if you hit a Catacomb Sifter and get two creatures in the process.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer is one of the best three-drops in the format. It's hard to not play at least one in a green deck running Collected Company. It's a legend, so we're only running one.
1 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
4 Catacomb Sifter
2 Nantuko Husk
While these creatures have different abilities, they serve one purpose: a sacrifice outlet to transform Archangel Avacyn.
Nantuko Husk feels weak on its own, but it survives the three damage Archangel Avacyn deals when it transforms, given you sacrifice all the creatures that would otherwise die anyway to it. It's also a great way to play around opposing Tragic Arrogance: sacrifice all but the creature you want to keep (most likely Archangel Avacyn or Sylvan Advocate) so your opponent has no other choice than to let you keep your best creature. When you're in trouble, along with Catacomb Sifter, you can dig through your deck for an answer by sacrificing your creatures and scrying useless cards to the bottom. Catacomb Sifter gives you the fifth mana to cast Archangel Avacyn on turn four and is a good target for Eldrazi Displacer as well.
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim fills the two-drop slot. Since she's a legend, we didn't want to play more than one. She is the only two-mana sacrifice outlet available and does a great job at blocking opposing Sylvan Advocates and Humans. She's the only way to gain life in the deck and that can come in handy.
Eldrazi Displacer is the most interesting creature of the bunch. There's so much you can do with Eldrazi Displacer to gain advantage on the board or trick your opponent. In no particular order:
The amount of colorless mana in the deck is sufficient to support it, so no worries there.
The deck has a few ways to win games, but Archangel Avacyn is the most efficient of them. The deck is built to ensure you will transform her and make the most of her as soon as you can cast her. She's great with most of the cards of the deck, and the fact that you can transform her over and over again with Eldrazi Displacer makes it hard for creature decks to recover.
The limiting factor when you build a Collected Company deck is that you have to run a certain number of creatures that you can hit. 25 targets is the minimum to have a good chance to hit. The card has been played for over a few months and you'll find the exact stats pretty much everywhere if you look in the right place. The problem with Collected Company is that it doesn't leave much room for sideboard, as it's likely you'll have to switch creatures for spells, and therefore lower your chances to hit on Collected Company. In these colors, there's no creatures that help you deal with Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, one of the biggest problem of the deck, so you'll have to play a spell to take care of it.
While Bant Company tries to put pressure on you by tapping and bouncing your creatures, we try to establish a bigger board presence and eventually kill with Archangel Avacyn or control the game with Eldrazi Displacer. Or…
…win with a Tragic Arrogance. It proved to be the best card against both Bant Company and Humans; so we decided to play it maindeck. No one really expected it to be played in the main, so much that not one but two of Jérémy's opponents asked for a deck check to make sure it was a maindeck card. With Tragic Arrogance, you can reset a board that has gone out of hand, and also flip your own Archangel Avacyn in the process. You'll get to scry quite a bit if you have a Catacomb Sifter out and replace Matter Reshaper.
The manabase was a little tricky to build. The Evolving Wilds came and went, then came again. They support the three-color deck fine and allow Canopy Vistas to come into play untapped more often. There's a case for running one Wastes in the deck as a source of colorless mana. I'm not really a fan of that, as you only need one colorless mana to cast Matter Reshaper and use Eldrazi Displacer. To support the colorless cards, we already have eight painlands, a Westvale Abbey and two Holdout Settlement.
The deck wants green early, black in the midgame, and double white in the late game. Holdout Settlement can provide colored mana in the late game without having to lose life, and Sylvan Advocate has vigilance, so you can attack AND use it to get the colored mana you want.
To better understand the manabase, here's the count for each color:
Black: 15 (black has all the painlands and is accessible with Deathcap Cultivator)
White: 13+2 (thanks to the Holdout Settlements)
Colorless: 11 (plus the Eldrazi Scions that you can sacrifice for colorless)
We put this deck together to beat both Humans and Bant Company, and it worked out in testing and for most of the players who played the deck at the tournament. Four of us took the deck to the tournament: Jérémy Dezani, Anthony Lee, Maitland Cameron, and myself.
The deck didn't perform exactly as expected, as players adapted to the metagme in a bad way for us. Not enough players played Humans and Bant Company for our deck to dominate. Instead, they mostly played decks that were good against Humans, or Bant Company, giving up the other matchup. In both cases, it was pretty bad for us. Basically, we were able to beat A (Humans) and B ( Collected Company), but had a hard time against C (decks that beat either Humans or Company). Group C is made up of all the U/R decks, G/R ramp decks, and all kinds of control decks. Some of us got the right matchups at the right time (Jérémy went 3-1-1 on day 1, then 1-4 on day 2), and Maitland finished with a 7-3 record overall (playing against four or five Human/Bant Company decks), while I played against three C decks and lost against Humans to end up with a not-so-impressive 0-4 result in Constructed before I dropped.
The deck doesn't really sideboard well. You basically replace an Elvish Visionary for a third Tragic Arrogance against Humans, and two Elvish Visionaries and a Matter Reshaper for three Hallowed Twilights against Collected Company.
In other matchups, you take out one copy of each creature to be less vulnerable to Declaration in Stone to sideboard in Transgress the Mind and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar against control, Fleshbag Marauder against creature-light decks, and Anguished Unmaking against… the rest.
Now the real question: is the deck good? Is it worth looking into now that the metagame isn't about Humans and Bant Company anymore?
I think it deserves another shot. While we might have had the wrong metagame call and underestimated the field in its capacity to adapt to the two supposedly best decks in the format, there still is room to maneuver. LSV's B/G Company deck is close to what we were trying to do in the first place with our Ally package, so maybe that's what we should have stayed with all along.
We also underestimated the number of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in decks, which was a huge problem. If we can kill it with Anguished Unmaking, or with a timely Fleshbag Marauder, it's game over. However, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet doesn't trigger when token creatures die… keep that in mind when looking to flip Archangel Avacyn against one.
There's another way the deck can go as well, and that's by going even bigger. For some time, Zulaport Cutthroat were in the deck alongside Eldrazi Displacers. And you know what's good with both Zulaport Cutthroat and Eldrazi Displacer? Brood Monitor. Sure, that three-card combo isn't that easy to assemble, especially since Brood Monitor can't be hit by Collected Company, but it's not the worst idea.
So give it a try and feel free to tweak it a bit. See if you find can find the version that will be more adapted to the new metagame.
Before we wrap up, I'd like to thank Team MTGMintcard and everyone I tested with for the Pro Tour, even if my own result kinda sucked. Congratulations to Andrea Mengucci for his performance!