I boarded my flight Sunday night after the Indianapolis Open looking back on the weekend with a little bit of regret. I felt like the Five-Color Abzan list that I played was really close to being good enough to go deep with, but ultimately I had to settle for another Top 32 finish. Ultimately, the mana was off, which is something I feel like a lot of players are going to say about their decks for a few weeks. I ended up playing Khans of Tarkir trilands in the deck which, by now, almost everyone has realized have no place in a four-color deck. The inclusion of the trilands led to a higher percentage of lands that entered the battlefield tapped, which cost me too many percentage points against the more aggressive decks in the room. While I was disappointed with my final standing, I was excited to get working on what to play in Atlanta the following week.
In Indy, I played against a healthy amount of Jeskai and Jeskai Black decks. I was impressed by how smooth the mana looked, and felt like the inclusion of Crackling Doom answered a lot of the issues that Jeskai previously had. For a while, my biggest issue with Jeskai was how badly you needed your removal spells to be to line up with your opponent's threats. There would be too many situations that you would be holding a Valorous Stance while getting beat down by a Fleecemane Lion or a Lightning Strike staring at a herd of Siege Rhinos. Crackling Doom offers a catch all at an attractive cost, while also being a relatively easy combination of colors.
Crackling Doom wasn't the only card that impressed me out of the Jeskai decks though. Ojutai's Command paired with Dragonmaster Outcast was one of the most impressive things I saw from the event. While I don't think anyone was surprised at the pairing, the issues that the Outcast presents are magnified in a format that is low on instant speed removal. The ability to loot away a Dragonmaster Outcast to an early Jace, Vryn's Prodigy all while building a two-for-one Ojutai's Command is not something to overlook.
The more I played with the early Jeskai Black lists, the weaker I felt my Jaces were. There were many times that I had the ability to cast a spell in the main phase, but I often wanted to hold up mana to interact on my opponent's turn. Because of this, and what I found was a slight weakness to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, I decided to try out a couple copies of Duress in the maindeck. While it felt weird to try out, they ended up being surprisingly good. I can't even say they were the oddest card in my deck.
Here is the list I came in 35th with this past weekend:
As you can see, I was trying a lot of cards out...and most of them did pretty well. I started the week out trying to find the build of Jeskai Black that was going to be best suited for both my play style and what I expected the format to be. I realized early on that the G/W Megamorph deck was going to be very popular and presented some tough obstacles for the Jeskai deck to overcome. While fliers, and Mantis Rider in particular, are good threats against the G/W Megamorph deck, I tried too hard to go long with them and ultimately ended up building a deck that couldn't win the long game and didn't have as many tools as it could for a short game.
Horribly Awry was the worst card on the list of cards to test for the weekend. While I envisioned exiling Deathmist Raptors and Den Protectors to break up the chain that they can create, it didn't exactly play out like that. It was awkward holding up mana when I could be deploying Mantis Rider on an empty board instead. Even more awkward was having Awry in hand when Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was cast. To Say Gideon felt like an issue would be an understatement.
The inclusion of Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Soulfire Grand Master as my only two-drops feels correct in hindsight. The format has become pretty hostile for a card like Hangarback Walker and Seeker of the Way is something that doesn't really excite me on the average draw with this deck. While I don't think my threat count was right, I think keeping a limit on the amount of two-drops we have is correct.
I said it once already and I'm sure I'll say it again, I messed up the mana. I was too concentrated on increasing my chances of having a turn one red source for a Shock effect, that I overlooked the damage I was dealing to myself with an increased number of off-color fetches and duals. Unfortunately, my week of preparing for Atlanta was based more around theorizing what was going to be good and not as much testing as I would have preferred. If I could do it again, I would Simplify the manabase to stay within the non-green fetches and duals, but just increase the basic count.
I was happy with my sideboard overall, but there were notable voids that I want to address moving forward. Felidar Cub is something that I had in my deck up until the morning of the tournament, but ultimately ended up cutting for other options. Felidar Cub not only offers a rebuyable out to Silkwrap, but also to Evolutionary Leap from the G/W Megamorph deck, which can quickly take a game out of control. Touch of the Void was another failed experiment, as Radiant Flames was sorely missed against the surge of aggressive decks this week. Again, I expected to be able to Touch of the Void Deathmist Raptor and Hangarback Walker, but in reality it was too slow and clunky.
Dragonlord Silumgar was very impressive to me and is something that I will be exploring further in the coming weeks. The ability to swing a board around with a hard-to-deal-with body was very powerful, especially when cards like Valorous Stance aren't good against the game one game plan. Multiple times this weekend I was able to steal a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and make an emblem to allow my Mantis Riders to fight with opposing Wingmate Rocs. To say it felt dirty would not do it justice.
This weekend I will be competing in the TCGplayer Standard State Championship with an updated version of the deck. While things could change after seeing the Pro Tour this weekend, this is the list I am planning on playing:
While my percentage of having a turn one red source is lower in this build, I think the mana is smoother overall. I'm interested in trying out Evolving Wilds, but it is not something that I have personal experience with in this build.
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is one of those cards that give me the tools necessary to win a short game without being one dimensional. There are a few cards that were played against me this weekend that make me think we are not fully exploring the format around us, and this is on the list for sure. One opponent from the weekend seemed to have a lot of those cards going for him, and that was Cecil Washington, who finished in 12th place with his take on Mardu Dragons.
While I think there are a few things that are rough around the edges, the overall game plan feels really good with where we are currently. Soulfire Grandmaster plus Draconic Roar can be a big swing against the aggressive red decks, while Thunderbreak Regent and Kolaghan, Storm's Fury take care of things in the air.
I'm not sure how good Monastery Mentor is in this deck, but I do know that the card can get out of hand quickly. Early in the format I wanted to explore a deck based around Mantis Rider and Kolaghan, as it was clear that haste was a powerful ability with the change in removal. It's possible that this and Jeskai Black offer the shell necessary to build that deck. While again, I have only been able to theorize about the deck, this is the list I have in front of me now:
I'll be the first to admit that this list is rough around the edges, but Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury is really good at ending games quickly and I feel as though it is worth building around. It's possible that the percentage points gained with staying in Mardu offsets the advantage Mantis Rider gives us, but between Rider, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Jeskai Charm, Treasure Cruise, and sideboard options, you rarely need to draw more than a blue source or two for very powerful effects.
Going into TCGplayer States and the Pro Tour this weekend, I expect a harsh reaction to the results from the last two Opens. G/W Megamorph is a very strong deck, but it has its problems just like everything else. Fliers are a serious problem for the deck, but most of the powerful fliers are answered well by Crackling Doom. It's possible that Crackling Doom is too oppressive, but the idea of having Dragonlord Ojutai make a comeback is something that I would be afraid of if I were the G/W deck.
I know I touched on a lot of these cards in the article, but I want to list a few cards that I think are going to have a big weekend and a couple others than I would avoid myself in my own version of a Love / Hate column.
HATE5. Arashin Cleric
While this card has historically been good against the aggressive red decks, it seems underwhelming against the current iteration. Being able to attack into it with multiple x/2 creatures makes this card less effective than it was previously.
4. Temur Battle Rage
Being half of the two card "combo" that took down the Open in Indianapolis, Temur Battle Rage has been brought to everyone's attention from the dreaded Atarka Red deck. Even though the ability to kill quickly and out of nowhere worked well for Brian DeMars week one, I do not think the card will be adapted in the versions of the deck moving forward, opting for more consistence source of damage in the form of Exquisite Firecraft and even Hordeling Outburst. This is mostly going to be a response of people moving Arashin Clerics to Surge of Righteousness, as Surge is very difficult to play into with the Atarka deck.
3. Hangarback Walker
Another card that has been pretty popular in the opening weeks, but is slowly getting adjusted to as the format progresses. With the uptick in cards like Stasis Snare, Silkwrap, and Complete Disregard, I would be wary of trying to get my thopter on this weekend.
2. Silumgar, the Drifting Death
While I think Dragonlord Ojutai could have a good weekend even in the face of Crackling Doom, Silumgar, the Drifting Death does not have the same upside of being able to close games quickly. The effect is powerful in a format of Hangarback Walkers and other smaller creatures, but since the rotation of Elspeth, Sun's Champion and the format's adjustment to Hangarback Walker, I think Silumgar is riding the bench currently.
1. Siege Rhino
I know I might get some strange looks for this one, but I think Siege Rhino is pretty weak right now. Without a solid early plan against the Atarka Red deck, Rhino looks like a four-mana investment that opens up a window to get combo'd out of the game. It's possibly that I am wildly wrong, but Rhino does not line up well against the Gideon, Ally of Zendikar / Wingmate Roc combo, which have been very popular over the last two weeks.
LOVE5. Dragonlord Atarka
It's odd to me that this card has been this quiet for two weeks, but as far as I can see, it still rules the sky. While it doesn't shine in a format of Ojutai's Command, there are plenty of decks that can Overload a Jeskai opponent who showed up with that card.
4. Wingmate Roc
Not exactly a sleeper over the first two weeks, but it's worth mentioning again. Roc is incredibly powerful in the G/W Megamorph mirror and can just run away with a game by itself. If Languish decks are suffering from the format's aggression, Wingmate Roc looks like a great call.
3. Archangel of Tithes
Overlooked during Origins Standard, the Archangel could prove very important in the G/W Megamorph mirror match. Being able to come down and preemptively stop a Wingmate Roc for a turn is something to consider. Pair that with the lack of removal for bigger creatures post board and this could easily be a break out card in the G/W mirror this weekend.
2. Dragonmaster Outcast
If the format continues to be based around creatures and sorcery speed removal, do not be surprised if Ojutai's Command and this guy are winning a lot of games this weekend. It's possible that the current builds of Jeskai are not what we are going to see this weekend, but I would be shocked if this was not a key part of a few decks.
1. Kolaghan, the Storm's Fury
I don't know why I'm so enamored with this card right now, but I can tell you it's not because of any insider information. Without finding the right home for it, it will all be for naught, but in the games I have tested with it this past week, I have not lost when it was drawn with the necessary lands to dash it. Keep this one in mind.
Well, that's all I have for today. As you can see, I think fliers that have haste or impact the battlefield upon entering are very well positioned for this week, but only time will tell. I wish everyone the best that is competing in the Pro Tour or TCGplayer States this weekend. Any questions about the lists posted can be discussed in the comments and maybe we can find the missing piece to take down our state's championship!