After three weeks away from home, I'm finally back at my own place. It was a long and stressful three weeks but was also an absolute blast. For me, Pro Tour M15 began on July 17th when I flew from Tampa to the city where I grew up, Providence, RI. The plan was to test with Team Revolution for a week, attend GP Boston/Worcester, and then fly straight to Portland after the GP.
My parents have a pretty big house and they agreed to host us for the week. We had a great space to play, a never-ending supply of food all week (gotta love Italian American parents) and a pool and basketball court for those times we were sick of Magic. I have to say it was pretty awesome having everyone there and we all had a great time.
We considered the best decks in the format to be Monoblack Devotion, Jund Monsters, and Esper Control. If any of our decks couldn't beat those, we just dismissed them completely. We tried a variety of brews such as Monogreen Aggro with Aspect of Hydra, Ensoul Artifact Aggro, Bant Midrange with Chord of Calling, and a few different Nissa decks, but they just couldn't consistently beat the top decks. I began working on UW Control, the deck that I enjoyed playing the most while other teammates worked on their own decks. By the time we got to Portland, we still had no clue what to play.
On the Monday before the Pro Tour, Brad Nelson showed us a Monored deck that he got from Tom Ross. It had about fifteen one-drops and overall a very low curve. It also had two new cards from M15: Stoke the Flames and Goblin Rabblemaster. When I first saw the deck, I thought it was pretty bad. I hate Monored decks, especially after I chose to play it at Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, did poorly with it, and vowed never to play Monored at a Pro Tour again. I went back to working on UW Control.
Brad insisted that this deck was awesome and proceeded to destroy all of the decks in our gauntlet, including Monoblack Devotion, Esper, Jund Monsters, and BW Midrange. I was still not impressed. I decided to show Brad that his deck was bad by beating him up with my UW Control deck. We sat down to play and I started losing. A lot. In fact, I didn't win a single game.
Ok. Maybe I'll give the deck a try.
We didn't have any of the cards for the red deck, so all of our copies of it consisted of proxies. We also didn't really know what the name of Goblin Rabblemaster was at the time, so we called him things like Goblin Dude, Rubblebelt Goblin, Rubble Bubble Goblin, Goblin Battleblaster, and Goblin Bubbler. Frank Lepore even suggested calling him the Hamburgler because "Rubble Rubble!" Oh, and we didn't know what Stoke the Flames was called was either, so we just called it "Convoke." "Cast Convoke and kill you" was a common phrase that was said during our playtesting sessions.
It turned out that the red deck was amazing. The only problem with the deck was that it couldn't beat Monoblue. The matchup was actually unwinnable preboard and we didn't have much of a sideboard plan against it either. We spent the next few days working on the sideboard and trying to figure out how to beat Monoblue. It turned out that 1/4 and 2/3 creatures are pretty good against little red dudes. Frank Lepore and I were looking at some Top 8 decklists from a recent TCGplayer Diamond event and we stumbled upon a list very similar to ours that splashed white for Boros Charm. The list played Dynacharge, a card that was a four-of in our Return to Ravnica block constructed deck and a card that I had completely forgotten about. As it turned out, Dynacharge was the missing piece that we needed to solve the blue matchup. It allows you to kill Frostburn Weirds and Nightveil Specters in combat while also dealing extra damage with your unblocked creatures. It also works really well with Legion Loyalist because you can trample over for tons of damage and your guys gain first strike. Dynacharge was exactly what we needed against other aggressive decks that tried to go bigger than us. Dynacharge also counters Domestication, which most Monoblue decks played in their maindeck now.
With the Monoblue matchup figured out, we were feeling really confident in the deck and practically the whole team decided to play it at the Pro Tour. Samuele Estratti was the only one who chose to play a different deck, Jund Monsters, and he failed to make Day 2. I understand why he didn't play the deck. Just like me, he hates playing decks like that, especially at a Pro Tour. I really didn't want to play it either, but it felt much more powerful than other red decks I've played.
Here's the list I played.
Some of us chose to play the third Firefist Striker over an Ash Zealot, and some played a Titan's Strength in the main over a Rubblebelt Maaka.
On paper, this deck looks incredibly simple to play. You just play a bunch of dudes and turn them sideways, how hard can that be? The deck actually has a lot of interesting lines of play that many players will miss. For example, you can play your Burning-Tree Emissary, get two mana, and tap it and one other creature to cast Stoke the Flames. You can also tap goblins to cast Stoke the Flames in order to avoid chump attacking into your opponent's creatures.
Besides the interesting plays with Stoke the Flames, it can be hard to sequence your plays with this deck. When do you play the haste guy? When should you use Rubblebelt Maaka? Do you keep your one land hand or mulligan? Do you attack with Mutavault or add another creature to the battlefield?
One of the reasons I loved this deck and hated other versions of Monored aggro is this deck has an awesome late game, and it's all thanks to M15. Stoke the Flames gives you some additional reach. Four damage is a lot for one card and it's not unlikely that your opponent stabilizes at four or eight life and then you finish them off with a couple of Stokes. Goblin Rabblemaster is our MVP and casting this guy can get you right back in the game when you're losing. If your opponent can't deal with the goblin, you will just get more guys every turn and your Rabblemaster will just get bigger and bigger. Combine that with Legion Loyalist and the Rabblemaster will become lethal very quickly.
I ended up going 7-3 with Rabble Red and with a 4-2 record in Draft, I found myself in 23rd place after the Swiss rounds were over. Here are a few interesting notes from my matches:
In the first constructed round of the tournament I played against Brock Parker from Team Channel Fireball. He was playing a very similar red deck but he was splashing white for Boros Charm and Chained to the Rocks. He won the die roll and had an aggressive start. We were in a tight race and I was in a position where I could win game one as long as he didn't have anything. He ended up having Boros Charm so the game ended up not even being close. In both games two and three he lead with Battlefield Forge into Mana Confluence and took one or two damage a turn from his own lands. His risky manabase definitely helped me with the match and it's decks like this that Rabble Red is designed to punish.
I played against black devotion decks (either BG or BW) three times. One of the matches was a Feature Match against Jon Finkel which you can read about here. These are your best matchups. Black decks are trying to one-for-one you with their removal and then overwhelm you with card advantage from Underworld Connections. However their cheapest removal spell is two-mana and if you can land a couple of creatures before they can even cast their first removal spell, they won't be able to keep up with your aggression. Additionally, Underworld Connections is uncastable against our deck. They can't afford to tap three mana to play a spell that doesn't deal with our threats. Thoughtseize is also pretty terrible because our cards have a lot of redundancy. We actually want them to cast Thoughtseize and take two damage from it.
Two of my losses were to Selesnya Aggro, including one loss to finalist Jackson Cunningham. While I consider this matchup to be 50/50, I got crushed by Selesnya Aggro at the Pro Tour. The plan against this deck is to board in all of your removal and kill their creatures whenever possible. The fourth Legion Loyalist also comes in because they play a lot of token creatures including Advent of the Wurm, Voice of Resurgence tokens and Selesnya Charm tokens. As long as you play around their instant speed creatures, this matchup isn't too difficult. One thing to watch out for is Selesnya Charm on your Rabblemaster if you are attacking with many other goblins.
My third loss was to Matt Sperling playing Boros Burn. This matchup is actually terrible and there is really not much you can do about it. Young Pyromancer is the biggest problem for this deck so it's important to have Magma Spray after sideboard. Warleader's Helix is another scary card for us. Our match was very close but in the end he came out ahead thanks to his Young Pyromancer.
My other matches were against Jund Monsters, Esper Control, and Naya Hexproof. While I was able to win those matches, the scariest matchup to play against out of those three is Naya Hexproof. You can't ever interact with their creatures and after sideboard they play both Unflinching Courage and Gift of the Orzhova. One of those spells plus a Madcap Skills or Ethereal Armor on a hexproof guy is very problematic for us. While I don't like bringing in Skullcrack against a creature deck, I think you need it in this matchup. I boarded it in against my hexproof opponent and luckily had it the turn he cast his Unflinching Courage with the attempt to stabilize.Sideboarding
I'm not going to go into detailed sideboarding plans because Raphael Levy is going to be writing about that and his article should be up on magic.tcgplayer.com tomorrow, so be sure to check that out. I am however going to be discussing the sideboard and why we chose the cards we did.
I've already mentioned Dynacharge, but this card is the trump card against creature decks that try to go bigger than us. Three and four toughness guys can be problematic but with Dynacharge you can just trade with everything. You want this card against Monoblue and Selesnya.
The fourth Legion Loyalist is there against decks with creature tokens, such as Monoblue and Selesnya. Our deck can't deal with a Master of Waves but Legion Loyalist is a way to get past their Elemental Tokens. Legion Loyalist is also great in the mirror because their creatures are so little that blocking is not profitable at all.
Titan's Strength is a card that comes in against control decks. Scrying is very important against decks that try to wipe your board with mass removal. Titan's Strengh also gives you the choice of when to cast your pump spell, unlike Rubblebelt Maaka which can only be used when you're attacking. This gives you the option to cast it in response to a burn spell or a Drown in Sorrow. You can also use it as a defensive spell in games in which you are behind, and it's also great at countering a Domestication.
Eidolon of the Great Revel is a card that you want in almost every matchup. It shines against Monoblack, Esper, or slow midrange decks like Junk or Jund. It's not a card you need maindeck but after sideboard your opponent will bring in their cheap spells to try to slow you down, and Eidolon of the Great Revel can punish them for that.
We have four removal spells in the sideboard: two Magma Spray and two Mizzium Mortars. It goes without saying that these are for the creature decks. Magma Spray is very important to the deck because it kills one of the best creatures against us: Voice of Resurgence. Being able to hit Elvish Mystic, Young Pyromancer, and Satyr Firedancer is pretty good too. Mortars is cheap, efficient removal against Selesnya decks as well. It can kill a Loxodon Smiter while still allowing you to cast a creature in the same turn. It's also great against Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and with two copies of BW Midrange in the Top 8 of Pro Tour M15, you can expect to see a lot more of those popping up.
Finally, we have Skullcrack. Skullcrack is necessary against Sphinx's Revelation decks, but they don't help contribute to our game plan so that's why there are only two of them. We don't need to draw a Skullcrack to beat Esper, but sometimes it can be a total blowout against them. Skullcrack is also good against any deck that is planning on gaining life or preventing damage, such as Naya Hexproof or Maze's End. It also stops the damage prevention from protection creatures like Master of Waves and Fiendslayer Paladin.
Overall I loved the deck and our team had a great record with it. We put two players in the Top 16, one in the Top 25 (me!), three in Top 50, and one in Top 75. Two of the nine players who played the deck didn't make Day 2 but overall we were very happy playing Rabble Red.
Going forward, there aren't really many changes I'd recommend to this deck. There wasn't a card I wished I played, and all of the cards in the deck served a purpose. I did really like Titan's Strength over Rubblebelt Maaka at times because scrying is very valuable, especially when you're mana flooded. However, Maaka is really good when you need to kill bigger creatures like Loxodon Smiter or Blood Baron of Vizkopa and you need that extra toughness to save your creature. I wouldn't want to cut Maaka completely, but I'd cut one Maaka for a Titan's Strength for sure.
Firefist Striker was a card I wished I'd played more of. It was really good against everything except Esper. With UW Planar Cleansing Control winning the Pro Tour, I wouldn't want to play a third striker maindeck, but I'd definitely cut one Titan's Strength for it out of the sideboard.
Rabble Red was great, and it's a solid choice for the World Magic Cup qualifiers coming up. The best part about it is it didn't make Top 8 of the Pro Tour, which means it's still under the radar and not as respected as decks like BW Midrange or UW Control. You can bet that many players are still not prepared for this type of deck, which is a great reason to play it.
That's all I have for this week. Thanks for all of your support over the weekend and thanks for reading.
*Bonus* The Pro Tour Coverage Team featured our team in an article. You can check it out here.
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