Pro Tour Aether Revolt last weekend marked the onset of the new Team Series. I was surprised and impressed at how many teams had formed for the event and it was pretty neat to follow the tournament not only individually but from a team standpoint. Instead of looking hard at individual standings after Day One or after the tournament I was more interested in looking at the team standings to see how the various squads were doing.
While I enjoyed the first throwdown of the newly minted Team Series, figuring out a team and testing for this Pro Tour was an interesting journey for me. Originally, I was approached with the idea to create a new team with a number of phenomenal players, but that ended up falling through towards the end of the process. That left me in a bind. I was running out of time and needed to do something, or else I would find myself without a team and preparing for the event by myself.
I ended up joining up for testing with team Genesis, even though I wasn't a part of their actual team, which had already formed in the meantime. I was later approached by Craig Wescoe to be a part of a team he was creating, and I agreed. Thus I became a part of team Top Level with Wescoe, Raphael Levy, Patrick Chapin, Mike Hron, and Dan Lanthier. At that point, I was already committed to working with team Genesis, so while I would be keeping up with and cheering on my Top Level teammates at the Pro Tour, I didn't prepare for the event with them.
At the Pro Tour itself, we performe more like Team Mid Level. We put up a fairly average performance, but I'm no stranger to starting out weak and finishing strong, and I have no doubts that we'll bounce back some in the remaining two Pro Tours, even if we don't end up as one of the top two teams that make the championship at the end of the year.
As for the Pro Tour itself, Team Genesis ended up coming up with two decks that we played at the event. I'm going to talk about those two decks and why we decided to play them at the event.
This is the deck that I ended up playing along with a small majority of the people on the team.
Jeskai Control was one of our gauntlet decks while we were testing for the tournament, but I was basically losing to it with everything we came up with and eventually many of us just decided to play it at the event.
We felt that the combo of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian was both overrated and that it would have a target on its head, and we were putting up better results testing with Jeskai Control without the combo than with it. There was also an added benefit by playing this version that people might play scared of the combo and play worse against us, which would improve percentage points.
There are basically three key cards to this archetype. One of them is Dynavolt Tower. Dynavolt Tower is a really important card for a number of reasons. Against decks with a lot of card advantage or threats like Scrapheap Scrounger that keep coming back over and over again it's important to have a steady stream of interaction to deal with them. It's also extremely important against all varieties of the Saheeli Rai Copycat combo. If you stick a Dynavolt Tower on turn three, it becomes very difficult to lose to any variant of that combo deck. Dynavolt Tower can kill Saheeli to interrupt the combo and in general is a very good way to slowly grind down planeswalkers. Jeskai Control has the best card advantage engine in the format, so it's okay to let your opponent get value out of planeswalkers like Saheeli Rai or Nahiri, the Harbinger for a while, since you will eventually overwhelm them in the late game with Dynavolt Tower and Torrential Gearhulk. Dynavolt Tower is a large part of why I think four-Color Saheeli variants are the deck's best matchup by a significant margin.
Tower lets you tap out and be safe from losing to the combo, it provides a steady stream of removal and can even serve as a win condition by letting you slowly grind them out three points of damage at a time. Another big thing that the Tower does is make Harnessed Lightning, already the best removal spell in Standard, even better. With a Tower in play, Harnessed Lightning can automatically kill any five-toughness creature, and once you start adding in other spells, it can kill basically anything, including 8/8 Verdurous Gearhulks.
The other two major key cards to this deck are Glimmer of Genius and Torrential Gearhulk. I don't think either of these cards would be able to see play without the other. Glimmer of Genius doesn't look like much, especially when you compare it to other card drawing spells of years past, but I am continually impressed by just how much it does. I feel immensely favored in games where I cast a Glimmer of Genius on turn four in much the same way how other decks have a much higher win percentage when they play a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on the fourth turn.
Torrential Gearhulk is in a short list of cards that could conceivably be considered the most powerful card in the format. Gearhulk does a number of important things for the deck. For one, when combined with Glimmer of Genius, it represents an amount of card advantage that is too much for basically any deck to overcome. Being able to play Glimmer of Genius on turn four, interact with the opponent on turn five, and then provide both interaction and another Glimmer of Genius on turn six will bury the opponent pretty easily.
Torrential Gearhulk also allows the deck to turn the corner very quickly. Having five power is very convenient in that it takes exactly four attacks with a Gearhulk to finish the game, and it is usually pretty difficult for the opponent to outclass Torrential Gearhulk in combat due to its size and how much advantage it provides along the way. Your opponent might have a bigger board, but will that last with Torrential Gearhulk flashing back a Harnessed Lightning or a Glimmer of Genius to find more interaction?
While four attacks may seem like a lot, it doesn't take long for that to end the game, especially when you consider that one Gearhulk often helps you find more Gearhulks and something like turn six Gearhulk followed by a turn seven Gearhulk along with a Shock and a Dynavolt Tower activation is 20 damage and a turn eight kill. Control decks often don't have a great way to turn the corner and with how powerful cards are these days, that's a real problem. Torrential Gearhulk changes that dynamic in the same way a card like Sphinx's Revelation put you so far ahead that there was no coming back from it.
The best part of this deck is the sideboard, though. It was tough to build a strong sideboard for the deck, but Thing in the Ice and Dragonmaster Outcast were both extremely important sideboard cards that turned the deck into what Michael Majors referred to as a "Delver strategy" after sideboard where you could just play an early threat, protect it with countermagic and then that threat would singlehandedly win the game. I played a lot of turn two Thing in the Ice in sideboarded games and watched my opponents get a look of "oh no" when I played it. To me, that signified that they probably sided out all of their removal spells and I could just play to flip the Thing in the Ice and beat them that way. Similarly, a turn six Dragonmaster Outcast while holding up some interaction was enough to win a lot of matches.
I ended up going 6-4 with the deck, losing multiple times to Mardu Vehicles, which was a poor matchup for the deck. Moving forward, I would look to cut the Quarantine Field, Jace, and Fumigates from the main deck and get a few copies of Radiant Flames in the mix to better shore up the matchup against hyper aggressive decks like Mardu Vehicles. I think if we had played Radiant Flames instead of Fumigate, I would have won a few more matches.
This also isn't something I usually bring up, because complaints along these lines are generally overstated and whiny, but I only won two die rolls in 16 rounds at the Pro Tour, and I think I could have easily gone 8-2 with the deck if I had won a few more of those. I lost every die roll against Mardu Vehicles and a few of those game ones that I lost involved me dying on their turn five despite playing removal on turns two, three, and four. On the play I would have survived long enough to cast the Fumigate in my hand on turn five, and then turned the tide from there. I also made a few small mistakes in some of the rounds I lost that cost me minor equity. Sometimes the difference between mediocrity and success can be on the back of small pieces of variance and small mistakes in play.
Moving forward, I probably wouldn't play this deck again without fixing the matchup against Mardu Vehicles, if it even can be fixed, but our team did fairly well with the deck overall, averaging around a 6-4 finish, which is a good percentage at the Pro Tour level.
Our other deck was Black-Green Constrictor. Brad Nelson did the bulk of the work on this deck, which we based on a similar deck that got second at the very first Open of the season. However, since that tournament was won by a Black-Green Delirium build piloted by a known player in Brennan DeCandio, the second-place list basically got ignored while everyone picked up the Black-Green Delirium Aggro build.
Basically, we felt that this was a better version of the deck, as cards like Grim Flayer and Mindwrack Demon weren't pulling their weight in testing, whereas the energy-based cards like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner were overperforming.
This deck provides a lot of synergy in that Winding Constrictor not only interacts with +1/+1 counters, but also with energy production. Whenever you cast or attack with a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, you immediately net two energy with a Winding Constrictor in play, which means that you will be able to draw a card on the next turn. Cards like Aether Hub, Servant of the Conduit and Aethersphere Harvester all generate extra energy with Winding Constrictor in play.
One of the most powerful cards in the deck is Aethersphere Harvester, which may look like a random addition to the deck but it is integral in beating both the mirror match and Mardu Vehicles. It's big enough to block Heart of Kiran and survive Grasp of Darkness. It also can't be Fatal Pushed without the help of revolt. Where it becomes a powerhouse is when you begin to combine it with other cards. When you can put four +1/+1 counters on it with Verdurous Gearhulk and then give it lifelink, you can race even some disgusting board states. Gaining seven life per attack both ends the game in three turns and also gives you a life buffer to survive long enough to do so.
One of the more interesting and unique cards is Gonti, Lord of Luxury. Gonti is an unsung hero from Kaladesh that occasionally saw sideboard play in the last format as a Delirium mirror card, but it really shines in this deck. When everyone else is playing more powerful cards than you are, Gonti is a great way to leverage that against them. Stealing cards like Unlicensed Disintegration, Gideon, or even just getting another cheap removal spell in Shock or Fatal Push along with a creature that simply can't be pushed around in combat thanks to deathtouch is a medium big game. Stealing a counter from a control deck is also often enough to just win the game by itself.
This deck also put up a very good win percentage, with a win rate of close to 70%, thanks to having a better matchup against Mardu Vehicles, which we underestimated and which ended up being 22% of the total field. Moving forward, this is a deck I would be looking to work more on if you're expecting Mardu Vehicles to continue to be a popular deck in the metagame. I can't imagine that it won't be.
I think tuned versions of both of these decks are going to be viable options in the weeks moving forward. It's rare that you come to a Pro Tour with two different decks and both put up good results, but that was thankfully the case for us. Jeskai Control should improve now that it has a better idea of what decks it needs to combat, namely Mardu Vehicles, and black-green should also continue to be good as it is one of the few decks that is naturally strong against Mardu Vehicles and boasts a good, proactive game plan.
- Brian Braun-Duin