Testing for the RPTQ started two weeks before the tournament. Unfortunately, the format for the current PPTQ season is Modern, meaning that those qualified were unable to get much practice playing in Competitive REL Standard events. So testing started as soon as the meta had settled a little bit after the Pro Tour, helping my teammate Justin prepare for GP LA at the same time. I played the Rb aggro deck in our testing sessions, against Grixis midrange first and then Esper control. I was impressed with a lot of what Grixis was doing, but its inconsistent manabase led to us discarding the deck. Esper control’s mana left me unimpressed as well, as the Rb matchup seemed to be about 50/50. Justin was convinced, and took Esper to the GP. He did great until he met back to back Flame of Keld Red decks in rounds 6 and 7. His experience put Flame of Keld on our radar when discussing decks for the RPTQ on the following weekend, and we were sure to not underestimate it.
After our testing but before the GP, I found a couple Blue-Black Scarab God decklists floating around. Autumn Burchett was playing it on stream, and the deck was doing everything that I liked about Grixis, but much more consistently. It was the first deck I worked on, tweaking a generic list and playing a few games with it. It felt OK, but I definitely wanted to try something a little more exciting first – Blue-Black God Pharaoh’s Gift. The deck has been fringe playable for a few months, and it is the only deck to run Kitesail Freebooter in the maindeck, something that could be valuable if Bant Turbofog continued to be a top deck. So I threw the list together and took it to a small FNM, the Friday before GP LA. I went 2-2, and was reminded that the deck loses to itself a lot, and only seemed okay against some of the other decks in the meta.
Monday, the results from GP LA, GP Providence, an SCG Standard Classic, and a Standard PTQ on MTGO painted a clear picture of the winner’s metagame. Chainwhirler was 50% of the meta, with Fog and Green decks falling off a bit, and Flame of Keld having a great weekend.
With this snapshot of the meta in mind, I went to work tuning and tweaking a build of Blue-Black midrange with a large consideration against red decks, even going so far as to play a Fungal Infection over a Ravenous Chupacabra in the main deck.
Initial testing with a group on Thursday night showed that the Rb matchup was close, and that once the Blue-Black deck turned the corner the game was basically locked up. Getting to the point where you were actually turning the corner was tough, but definitely doable.
On Friday I felt confident that I would play Blue-Black at the RPTQ, and I met up with my close friend and teammate Campbell to iron out some details and practice the Rb matchup some more. And then I started losing. And I lost some more. Even with hands where I had the maindeck Essence Extraction, stabilizing against Rb’s aggressive draws sometimes felt impossible. At the end of the testing session, Campbell and I decided that we didn’t have any more time to tune and test the matchup from the Blue-Black side, so we chose to discard the deck. Instead, we focused on tuning the Rb deck for the mirror, putting some Magma Sprays in the main and adding all four Chandra’s Defeat to the sideboard. I was bummed to have to give up on Blue-Black, but excited to have a solid plan for the mirror, a deck I expected to play against at least three times at the RPTQ.
Here is the decklist that I registered at the RPTQ:
2 Magma Spray
2 Heart of Kiran
2 Unlicensed Disintegration
4 Soul-Scar Mage
4 Bomat Courier
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
2 Pia Nalaar
4 Goblin Chainwhirler
2 Hazoret the Fervent
2 Rekindling Phoenix
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Aether Hub
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Canyon Slough
1 Magma Spray
4 Chandra’s Defeat
1 Karn, Scion of Urza
2 Sorcerous Spyglass
1 The Eldest Reborn
Illustrated by Kieran Yanner
I listened to Gerry Thompson and put Sorcerous Spyglass in the board over Insult // Injury, and the Karn acted as a threat and card advantage engine that can’t be targeted by Chandra’s Defeat.
R1: vs RB WLL
This match was largely uneventful, as I won game 1 to better draws than my opponent, and I lost games two and three to my opponent drawing better than I did.
R2: vs Goblin Gift LWW
This match was similar to the first, but in my favor this time. I drew more of my relevant sideboard cards in this match, including multiple Chandra’s Defeat and a timely Glorybringer off the top.
R3: vs Esper Control LL
I kept a hand game one that was very bad against control, and I lost quickly. In game 2 my opponent was missing double blue mana when I Spyglassed him and saw Profane Procession, Disallow, Teferi, and some other uncastable cards. I name Procession and plan on slamming Karn next turn. My opponent draws and passes. I play my fourth land and cast Karn, right into my opponent’s top decked Censor. I don’t draw enough pressure while my opponent draws lands eventually and I die.
R4: vs UR Paradoxical LL
I didn’t expect to see a lot of this deck, and my sideboard isn’t very well set up for this matchup. Both games played out similarly, where I have a piece of interaction early, and some good pressure, but it wasn’t enough to fight through infinite blockers and the eventual life gain of Aetherflux Reservoir.
R5: vs Flame of Keld LWL
I felt like I prepared well to play against this deck. With two Magma Spray in the main and all four Chandra’s Defeat, I was ready to play against Flame of Keld. The first two games came down to a topdeck on either side, while the third wasn’t so great. My deck didn’t help me out at all, and after keeping a serviceable opening hand, I was run over and burned out.
R6: vs Rb WW
In this match, I felt like all of my decisions were finally vindicated, and it played out exactly how I hoped it would all day. I Magma Sprayed a Scrounger game one, and took over the game eventually. In game two we traded resources until I was left with a Karn on board that couldn’t be dealt with by my opponent. Karn finds his best friend Chandra, and my planeswalkers are able to close out the game easily. I cast a number of my sideboard cards this game, and felt like everything I was doing lined up well in the mirror.
R7: vs Esper Control WW
I played against a friend to close out the tournament. Game one showed me three Bomat Couriers against his Esper Control deck, which grinded out a good amount of card advantage for me. In game two, I got off to another pretty fast start, and he wasn’t able to find any white mana. After the game he showed me the Cleansing Nova in his hand, and we both laughed about his bad luck and our lackluster finishes at this event.
If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I liked the small changes I made, and I called the meta pretty well. I would just hope to play a bit better and get a little luckier.
That being said, I’m very excited to wave goodbye to Kaladesh and start brewing fun new decks when we return to Ravnica in October!