Hello, and welcome to "My Pterrible Mythic Championship Deck: Or How I Decided to Register a Deck I Previously Said Was Heinously Bad" by Brian Braun-Duin. I'm the aforementioned Brian Braun-Duin, and I'll be your host through this magical journey of Discovery, and very, very rarely Dispersal, when you draw the Blood Crypt and the time is right. Get your charts out, it's time to hit the course. This weekend is the Mythic Championship (previously known as a Pro Tour) in Cleveland, Ohio, and this is my story.
To begin with, here is the 75 cards I registered for said Mythic Championship this weekend in the beautiful city of Cleveland.
So how does a deck like Izzet Drakes and a guy like me end up together? The answer is very simple. I dove down to play a set with this deck in testing against Mono-White Aggro, won more games than I lost, and then I locked in like three days before the Mythic Championship for no real reason. I opted to do this without much other testing for other matchups and despite the fact that the rest of my team of all smarter and better players than me are all playing other decks. It's truly an enigma.
Ok, that's not exactly true. Drakes is a deck I've played a lot with and had been eyeing for some time. The decks that Drakes are particularly bad against are things like Esper Control or various Gates or Nexus of Fate decks. I don't expect those decks to show up in high numbers at the event. I think that Drakes has a pretty good matchup against a lot of other decks, most of the rest of the field in fact.
I found out a while back that I do better in events when I follow my own path and don't just play whatever deck the rest of my team does, unless that deck is something that fits my preferred playstyle. I trust my team, and trust that they will do their best to find the best deck. I don't trust myself to play it unless it's one of my styles of decks. I'm open to playing combo, aggro, control, or midrange decks, but within each of those archetypes, I've found that there are specific styles of those decks I do well with and ones that I don't.
For example, I don't do well with control decks with lots of countermagic and a low number of win conditions. I do better with control strategies that play lots of removal and card draw and big effects. I don't do well with hyper-focused aggro but rather perform better with beefier aggro decks. And so on and so forth.
The other decks that my teammates settled on are those kinds of decks I suck with. Even though I think they are good decks, I've decided to stick to my guns and do what I know is best for me personally.
Drakes is a deck that more fits my playstyle, even though I know for a fact I do not pilot it optimally, it's at least a deck where I can understand my role and game plan for each matchup and how I should be trying to play the game out, even if I don't play my card selection spells optimally or sequence perfectly.
Knowing your role, how to play, and how to sideboard in a specific matchup are unbelievably important skills in Magic that go overlooked a lot. I think quite often these are more important than your exact technical prowess. Many players on the Pro Tour are superior mages when it comes to piloting the games of Magic themselves. They make clean plays, don't make mistakes, and see lines of play I simply do not see. Where I've made up that kind of equity in the past has been by having good decks, good plans, and knowing my role in matchups.
When I play decks where I don't know my roles or exactly how to sideboard or how others will sideboard against me, that's where I make mistakes, walk into tricks, or lose games where I'm afterward scratching my head and saying "I think I could have won that somehow." I feel comfortable with Drakes. Maybe my plans end up being bad or ineffective or something in hindsight, but at least I have those plans in the first place!
Drakes was a deck from last Standard that wasn't very good. What changed to make it good now? The answer is: not much, or in some cases, quite a bit. The big change is the introduction of Pterry Bradshaw, also known as Scary Pterry or Pterrible Pterry. I guess some do call it Pteramander, but they are wrong to do so.
Previously these decks were all in on the eight Drakes, Enigma and Crackling, or hoping that Niv-Mizzet could get the job done at six mana. Pteramander increases the speed of the deck and makes Chart a Course a far superior card than it was in prior versions. This deck rarely benefits from discarding a card to Chart a Course, unlike the Arclight Phoenix varieties, so Pteramander allowing for a turn-two Chart a Course is a huge boost, as you can keep an extra card in a deck that needs lots of lands and spells. Pteramander also trades with one-drop white creatures or can serve as a two mana 5/5 creature later in the game when you also want to cast other spells on a turn. "Double Spelling" or playing multiple cards in one turn is an important part of many decks' identities and this is no different.
One card I don't love in this deck is Spell Pierce. Drakes is a well-known entity and they mostly all play three copies of Spell Pierce. People can often play effectively around Spell Pierce if they know to expect it. In fact, Spell Pierce is at its best when people don't expect it to be in your decklist and at its worst when people know to expect it.
In some decks, such as decks that win quickly or get out of control quickly, like Mono-Blue in Standard or Delver of Secrets decks in Legacy, Spell Pierce is still good anyway, because the games are quick enough and low resource enough to make good on it. Drakes doesn't start to put pressure on until turn three–five, at which point Spell Pierce is often not enough.
With that being said, the threat of Spell Pierce is insane. Passing the turn with one mana open and having your opponent choose not to tap out for their big spell is a large amount of value, even when you don't actually have a Spell Pierce in your hand. Therefore, the threat of the Pierce is generally better than the Pierce itself. I ended up being convinced to play two copies of the Paul Pierce, but I originally wanted to play zero copies and just rely on the threat to punish my opponents.
Entrancing Melody is one of the best cards in Standard. It steals Pteramander for three mana, it steals a History of Benalia token for 2 mana, and it steals a Hydroid Krasis for four mana. At six mana, it steals a Seraph of the Scales or Rekindling Phoenix, which may sound like a lot of mana, but in practice isn't that bad. Maindecking two copies of this card is something that I believe is 100% correct right now.
My sideboard is mostly straightforward, with a few exceptions.
First of all, I don't like Disdainful Stroke at all. I think countermagic is bad against Sultai, which is a premier Disdainful Stroke matchup. I don't need to counter a Hydroid Krasis, when I can just let it resolve and then steal it for four mana and make my opponent also have to kill a four-mana 6/6 flying trample creature.
Against other decks where countermagic comes in (which is precious few), Negate is superior in nearly every way. Disdainful Stroke can counter Frilled Mystic against Simic Nexus or the sideboarded Hostage Takers from Esper Control, but more often than not you're just happy you got to counter something with it that Negate would have also countered.
On the flip side, Negate hits Gates Ablaze and Guild Summit vs. the Gates deck, Cast Down and Mortify from Esper Control, and Search for Azcanta and Root Snare vs. Nexus decks that Disdainful Stroke can't touch. That's not an exhaustive list, of course, but I find it hard to believe that a Disdainful Stroke is better than any of the first three copies of Negates, although I could see one Disdainful Stroke being better than Negate number four. At that point, just having a unique effect is worthwhile in a deck that sees a lot of cards.
Some cards that are in a lot of sideboards are Search for Azcanta and Treasure Map. I have found these to be bad. These cards are meant to come in for grindy matchups or control matchups. The problem is that if the game goes too long against control, you often lose anyway, regardless of the utilization of Treasure Map, and control decks also have Thief of Sanity to punish you for doing nothing too much.
Against Nexus decks, these are too slow. The Nexus matchup is a race—you have to kill them before they take every turn, and that sometimes happens on turn four or five. What you want is one to two pieces of interaction like Spell Pierce, Negate, and occasionally Dive Down (vs. Blink of an Eye or Depose // Deploy) paired with pressure. Treasure Map and Search for Azcanta are too ineffective.
Against midrange, this effect is good. The problem is that Sultai in particular (the most common midrange matchup by an excessive amount) uses Vraska, Golgari Queen, Vivien Reid, Assassin's Trophy, and Hostage Taker to embarrass cards like Treasure Map. It only took getting wrecked before I could flip a Treasure Map a few times before I gave up on it in the matchup.
The last problem is one inherent to the deck itself. That problem is that Treasure Map is at its best when you activate it three turns in a row to flip it. This deck wants to use turn three and four to cast Enigma Drake and Crackling Drake, which means you can't activate the Treasure Map. Treasure Map also isn't a spell to pump those creatures, meaning that starts like turn two Map into turn three or four Drakes leaves you with weak Drakes and an ineffective Treasure Map.
For reasons like that, I'm inclined to believe that Search for Azcanta is significantly better than Treasure Map in this deck, but that it's still too weak to be worth it other than possibly one copy of the card in formats where the mirror match or control decks are at an all-time high.
However, there is a card that I do like for Control and Nexus matchups. That card is Legion Warboss. Sadly, I wish this card cost two mana, because it competes with Enigma Drake at three, but the Warfather is a fast clock vs. both Control and Nexus decks and is the best threat vs. Control because it immediately puts them under a clock to deal with it before there are enough tokens remaining to put them in a pickle afterward. It's also easiest to protect with Spell Pierce and Dive Down thanks to its cheap CMC.
Mono-Red: Mostly favorable. Game one I think you are pretty heavily favored, as they struggle to defeat the 4 toughness on your Drakes paired with Dive Downs and cheap removal to deal with their threats. After sideboard I think it gets harder when they get access to Lava Coil and other answers and also can either maintain aggression or shift to control mode, either of which it is easy to misboard against.
White Aggro: Somewhat unfavorable. Game one is very hard. It improves after sideboard with more cheap interaction, but their Venerated Loxodonald and Benalish Marshal draws can still punish you immensely and the two-drops, be it Tithe Taker or Adanto Vanguard, are both annoying to deal with.
Mono-Blue: Favorable. Cheap interaction and flying creatures that are bigger than theirs are a good way to ensure that Curious Obsession doesn't run away with games. As long as you don't get blown out by Merfolk Trickster turning your Drakes into 0/4's in combat, you should be able to win this one. Niv-Mizzet after sideboard requires a non-countermagic based answer from them to beat, which is easier said than done.
Gruul: Very favorable. Entrancing Melody punishes their deck, as do 4 toughness Drakes, Dive Down to protect them, and Lava Coil. I've found this to be one of the strongest matchups, as they lack the speed, consistency, or interaction to beat you regularly.
Rakdos Midrange: Not enough data. I haven't played enough here to know who is favored, although generally I have found myself beating nearly all removal-oriented decks by just out-grinding them.
Sultai Midrange: Even. I've found that this matchup can feel lopsided if either player has a bad plan or bad list, but with good players and good plans it feels very close. Sultai "feels" favored, but if one flying creature goes unchecked it can instantly win the game, meaning that the matchup is truly very close.
Esper Control: Unfavorable. Game one, you have too many dead cards. After sideboard, Thief of Sanity steals a lot of games, even though I believe you would be favored without that card existing.
Simic Nexus: Slightly Unfavorable. Game one is really hard, but after sideboard with Legion Warboss and Negate, it doesn't seem bad.
Four-Color Gate Control: Very Unfavorable. Gates Ablaze kills all your creatures, barring a Dive Down to save one, and it often dodges Spell Pierce as well to do so. Gatebreaker Ram gets out of Lava Coil/Shock or even Lava Coil + Shock range very quickly and is a faster clock than the Drakes often are.
Esper Midrange: Very favorable. You outdraw them on cards and your threats are much superior to theirs. Shock being a great answer to both Thief of Sanity and Hero of Precinct One is a huge bonus.
Random decks: I find that Drakes is extremely impressive vs. all manner of random archetypes, especially ones relying on creatures to win with. These decks usually struggle to deal with some combination of the efficient removal, efficient threats, or protection for those threats.
If Control, Nexus, and Gates decks don't show up significantly at the Pro Tour, then I believe that Drakes is fairly well positioned. If they do, then I might be in for a long...err, rather very short day. That is, if I can even escape the draft portion!
I'd offer up a sideboard guide, but this article will come out before the event starts and I wouldn't want to give away all my equity in the Mythic Championship, especially since it might have a massive bearing on my chances of being a Pro Magic player again next year. In another situation, I'd happily give it up.
I'll be honest, when I discussed how I didn't think this deck was very good a few weeks ago, I didn't expect that I would be playing it at the Pro Tour/Mythic Championship, but times change, formats change, and people change. Now, here I am, sleeving up Malfoy tribal on the biggest stage. May my spells be dense, and may my Ptera's successfully mand the ship.