This weekend is Pro Tour Dominaria. For me, that means I can't write about the deck I've submitted or the testing I've done until after the event. While that may seem selfish, it wouldn't be fair to my teammates for me to expose the work they've done and ruin their chances of success in the event. Besides, the surprise is better anyway, right?
To me, this event is worth a lot. I'm coming off back-to-back team GP Top 4 finishes, with a finals in GP Toronto teaming with Brad Nelson and Seth Manfield and a semifinals in GP DC with Brad Nelson and Martin Muller. It's been an insane run and a solid pro point boost that has left me in a spot where a strong follow-up finish would all but lock me for enough points to play in the World Championship this year. This Pro Tour could be that finish. Ever since playing in Worlds in 2016, my predominant goal has been to requalify again.
I'm also currently second place in the Constructed Master race. The player with the best record in Constructed rounds at the Pro Tour over a year's span earns a World's qualification. With the following Pro Tour being a team event, this is the final event to qualify for Constructed Master, so I'm hoping I can put up a repeat strong performance and perhaps earn a World Championship qualification that way.
Despite all this, I've felt relaxed and stress-free all week. I have low expectations. I'm in no regards a Standard master, but what more can we do but play our best and hope it works out and what value is there from stressing over it?
At any rate, while I can't detail my testing, I can still discuss some interactions from the top decks in Standard that may go overlooked.
Double-Tap on that Bomat – one interaction that I see players miss all the time involves Bomat Courier, specifically in multiples. Bomat Courier is worded such that discarding your hand is an additional cost to sacrificing Bomat. What that means is that discarding your hand is part of paying the cost of activating the ability and isn't part of the resolution of that ability. It's like tapping mana, you still have to tap your mana to cast a spell even if they counter your spell.
That can apply to the game in many ways. For one, if your opponent casts Disallow on your sacrificing of Bomat Courier, you still must discard your hand even though you don't get the cards.
The main interaction, however, involves having two or more Bomat Couriers in play at the same time. When you sacrifice Bomat Courier, you first discard your hand as part of the cost and then the activation puts a trigger on the stack to draw the cards exiled from that Bomat Courier. You have priority and can respond to that trigger by sacrificing another Bomat Courier. Again you would discard your hand as part of the cost, but since your hand is already empty from the first Bomat Courier activation, this doesn't matter. Then it puts another trigger on the stack to draw the cards exiled with Bomat Courier. At this point, you've discarded your hand twice, and there are two triggers on the stack to draw the cards from underneath both of your Bomat Couriers. When the stack resolves, you get all the cards.
Another tip for playing Black Red Aggro is to be mindful of using removal spells on your own creatures. Creatures like Scrapheap Scrounger and Rekindling Phoenix are recursive threats that can keep coming back again and again. In some matchups, especially against control strategies, it can be viable to use removal spells like Abrade to kill these creatures in response to removal spells that would exile them.
For example, if your opponent attempts to Seal Away a Rekindling Phoenix, you can Abrade it, get the egg from the Phoenix, and then on your following turn, sacrifice the egg to get the Phoenix back. Rather than sit around with a dead removal spell against a control deck, you can instead turn that Abrade into a fresh new Rekindling Phoenix, which is some pretty great value for an otherwise unimpressive card. This can also be valuable against other exile effects like Settle the Wreckage, Cast Out, and Vraska's Contempt.
The last tip is to be mindful of how Soul-Scar Mage interacts. Soul-Scar Mage with Goblin Chainwhirler puts a -1/-1 counter on all your opponent's creatures, which is a fairly well-known interaction at this point. However, if your opponent has a Winding Constrictor in play, you actually will put an additional -1/-1 counter due to the wording on Winding Constrictor. Soul-Scar Mage also interacts with damage from Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer's exert ability, which can be really useful to know if you're facing down creatures like Lyra Dawnbringer, for example. A Glorybringer exert with a Soul-Scar Mage can put Lyra down to a 1/1 before blocks, completely invalidating her powers.
This interaction is also useful in some other fringe scenarios. In the mirror, for example, a Chandra's Defeat on Hazoret, the Fervent with a Soul-Scar Mage in play will kill the Hazoret. Even though Hazoret is indestructible, Soul-Scar Mage means it will get -5/-5 and will die from having a toughness of 0 or less due to state-based effects.
One interaction I recently learned with this deck that I never knew before is that Rishkar, Peema Renegade functions off of any counter, not just +1/+1 counters. This can become relevant when facing down the Soul-Scar Mage + Goblin Chainwhirler interaction from the previous section. Sometimes you end up with a Rishkar with a -1/-1 counter on it, but it can still tap for mana, which can be very useful.
One thing to note is that +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters cancel each other out. If you put a +1/+1 on two creatures with Rishkar and then they play a Goblin Chainwhirler with a Soul-Scar Mage in play, those creatures just go back to their normal stats and don't have any counters on them at all, and thus cannot be tapped for mana.
As noted in the above section, it's important to keep in mind how Winding Constrictor interacts with -1/-1 counters. Much like +1/+1 counters and energy, Winding Constrictor increases -1/-1 counters. This means that an Ifnir Deadlands can kill a Winding Constrictor by itself.
This deck is full of a lot of interactions, many of which may not be readily apparent just from looking at the decklist.
One common interaction is to use Field of Ruin or Ipnu Rivulet to prevent your opponent from drawing a card that you know they are going to draw. For example, if you use Teferi, Hero or Dominaria or Commit // Memory to put a card two or three away from the top of your opponent's library, you can then activate Field of Ruin to force them to shuffle their deck. Field of Ruin is not optional so even if they no longer have basics in their deck they must shuffle those cards away. You can also use Ipnu Rivulet to mill them four cards and get rid them that way.
Another interaction is to use abilities in your own upkeep to flip Search for Azcanta. For example, with five cards in the graveyard, you can activate Field of Ruin in your upkeep to get up to six cards, then put the top card in your graveyard with Search for Azcanta and flip it that turn. You can also accomplish this with cycling from cards like Cast Out and Irrigated Farmland, or you can even Ipnu Rivulet yourself in dire scenarios to get that fast Search for Azcanta flip.
Another thing you can do with this deck to maximize Teferi is use mana on your turn to get value out of the untap two lands aspect of Teferi's +1 ability. Field of Ruin is a completely free activation with Teferi. You tap two lands to activate Field of Ruin, then untap those two lands again at end of turn. Or you can cast Glimmer of Genius on your turn for only two effective mana once you account for untapping two lands. My personal favorite is to activate Azcanta the Sunken Ruin, then untap that Azcanta and activate it again on your opponent's turn.
One fringe interaction is that you can kick spells when you flash them back with Torrential Gearhulk. For the low price of eight mana, you can cast Torrential Gearhulk on Blink of an Eye and actually pay the two mana to also draw a card off of Blink, since kicker allows you to pay that additional cost no matter how you're casting the spell.
One last interaction involves History of Benalia and Blink of an Eye. The way that Sagas work is that they put the ability on the stack and those abilities will still resolve, even if the Saga is no longer around by the time that ability would go off. So, for example, you can put History of Benalia's ability to give your Knights +2/+1 on the stack, and then use Blink of an Eye to return it back to your hand before it sacrifices. Your Knights will still get +2/+1 that turn and you will have a fresh History of Benalia to play again.
Now that's a history lesson I wouldn't sleep through in class.
- Brian Braun-Duin