Four Decks on the Shelf - Revisiting Pro Tour Testing

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
2/15/2017 11:00:00 AM
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I want to talk about the Team Genesis testing process for Pro Tour Aether Revolt. While I ultimately chose to play Black-Green Energy, along with a good portion of the team, there were other strategies that we didn't have enough time to fully explore. I'm willing to share those decks and ideas.

Before I do that, let's flashback two weeks. There was a point in time when Jeskai Copycat was the most-feared deck in Standard. My goal going into the Pro Tour was to feel comfortable playing against Jeskai, black-green decks of various varieties, and to a lesser extent Mardu Vehicles.

Those are the three best decks in Standard based on results, except that now Jeskai Copycat is far less relevant than the black-green decks and Mardu Vehicles. This means that decks that were struggling against Copycat but have a good matchup against the various black-green shells are in a good spot. Part of Team Genesis, including myself, chose Black-Green Energy for the Pro Tour, but there was a different Black-Green Delirium list which helped us tune our Black-Green Energy list.

We knew going into the Pro Tour that black-green decks were very good, so we wanted to try to get an edge in the mirror if possible. Here is the deck that I put together in order to beat up on the smaller version of Black-Green Energy we already had:

When I showed the deck to my teammates they said, “you are playing four Gonti, Lord of Luxury, that's crazy!” They are right, four is too many, and I would only play three if I were to play the deck in a tournament today. The goal was to test the card out, which is why I put four in the deck. We quickly realized how powerful of a card Gonti, Lord of Luxury is in the mirror and against control. Having had so much success with the Black-Green Delirium deck before the bannings, the goal was to see if a similar style of deck is viable without Emrakul, the Promised End.

The results were quite polarizing. I happily sat down against Brad Nelson and he got so frustrated and eventually refused to play games against this version of Black-Green Delirium because of how miserable the matchup was for the Black-Green Energy deck. In the matchup, the early game consists of killing Winding Constrictor immediately the turn it comes down, and then the other early creatures aren't really an issue. Liliana, the Last Hope can eat a turn two Walking Ballista or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, which is almost just game over on the spot. Once you get to the late game there are so many card advantage creatures that it is almost impossible to lose.

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 Liliana, the Last Hope
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It may seem weird to have so few delirium enablers, yet still be playing Traverse the Ulvenwald and Ishkanah, Grafwidow, but I stand by that decision. Cards like Grapple with the Past and Vessel of Nascency no longer have a place in a world without Emrakul, the Promised End. The goal is to get to four card types, which is much easier than six or seven. One Grim Flayer hit goes a long way, and the same can be said for drawing an Evolving Wilds. There will be plenty of games where you win or take control without having delirium at all, and that is okay. The idea is to play enough removal to deal with the early threats from the opponent, before deploying threats of your own.

So if this deck has such a good matchup against other black-green decks, why didn't we all play it at the Pro Tour? First of all, we didn't have enough of us fully exploring this deck, and sometimes that happens as teammates go in different directions. Once I got around to playing against the combo decks, I didn't like how the matchup was playing out from the Black-Green Delirium side. Tapping out for huge creatures like a Noxious Gearhulk or Ishkanah, Grafwidow, meant just asking to get combo'ed out. The more aggressive version of Black-Green Energy is able to create more of a board presence, so that during the later turns it is possible to leave up removal.

Rather than tweak the Black-Green Delirium deck to have more game against Copycat we ended up adding Gonti, Lord of Luxury to the Black-Green Energy deck. This way we had a card that we didn't expect other players to have, which is good in the mirror, while keeping our matchup against Jeskai Copycat at about even. Now that seemingly everyone playing black-green is playing Gonti, Lord of Luxury it might be time to go back to the bigger Black-Green Delirium deck, to once again try to go over the top of the energy-based builds.

One part of looking into decks for Pro Tours is examining past shells that have proven to be good. For instance, Green-White Tokens was an early frontrunner in testing because it received new tools from Aether Revolt. White-Black Control also used to be good, and I don't see why there shouldn't be a white-black in this Standard format. The issue I ran into with White-Black Control is the deck is simply too clunky. With Read the Bones no longer available for card draw, there just isn't a good replacement and the deck suffers. So instead of heading down the control path, I starting testing a more aggressive take on the color pair.

This deck has many similarities to Mardu Vehicles. In comparison to Mardu, the biggest loss is Unlicensed Disintegration. In exchange, the mana base is better, though still not great. The late game here is good because there are more planeswalkers, but I can't say this deck is better than Mardu Vehicles. But it fits my playstyle better, and I think the power level is still high. During testing the matchup against Black-Green Constrictor and Jeskai Copycat wasn't bad, though it wasn't amazing, either. This deck is actually good against Mardu Vehicles. Liliana, the Last Hope eating a Toolcraft Exemplar or Veteran Motorist is huge.

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 Heart of Kiran
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The idea of playing Heart of Kiran and following it up immediately with a planeswalker that can crew it is the concept this deck is built around. There are only 12 artifacts for Toolcraft Exemplar, which I think is just enough to justify playing Toolcraft Exemplar, and there were not any other vehicles besides Heart of Kiran the deck really wants since this deck isn't as creature-based as a traditional Vehicles deck.

The deck ended up being very solid, and I do think there is a place for it in Standard. The issue with this build is the same issue Mardu Vehicles has, namely inconsistency. The deck is two colors, yet it still has mana issues too often. There may be small changes that could make all the difference to the deck, which got overlooked during testing. Even in its current form without changes, I believe this deck is good enough to compete with all the top decks in Standard right now.

The other deck which I invested a lot of time into is Black-Red Zombies. Black-Red Zombies is a deck that has a great matchup against control decks, which is definitely important. However, the games against Black-Green Constrictor and Mardu Vehicles can be swingy.

Black-Red Zombies didn't really gain anything from Aether Revolt directly. However, this deck did shift as a result of the bannings. While Black-Red Zombies played Smuggler's Copter, the biggest issue was having to play against Emrakul, the Promised End. There is a draw to having cards like Prized Amalgam and graveyard recursion, which is incredibly difficult to stop. There isn't really graveyard hate in Standard right now, so eventually control decks just can't answer zombies continuously coming into play.

For players that have played Black-Red Zombies, you know this is a combo deck. It is incredibly important to have a discard outlet along with madness spells and the Zombies as well. An early Cryptbreaker has the potential to take over the game if left unanswered, but oftentimes it will be the target of an early removal spell. The two planeswalkers in the main allow you to have some threats which aren't part of the Zombie theme, and are just good on their own.

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 Voldaren Pariah
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The concept is to have enough removal to kill the larger creatures the black-green decks present, and find an opening to flip Voldaren Pariah. Unfortunately, Black-Red Zombies can be slow out of the gates for one reason or the other, as there are some inconsistencies in the draws. When you are bringing back Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead on turn three it feels great, but that doesn't happen often enough. If given time, the deck will set up and start its engine, but during testing we didn't think decks like Mardu Vehicles and Black-Green Energy allowed Black-Red Zombies enough time to consistently set up.

The last deck I want to share wasn't a deck I came up with, it was primarily Michael Majors who worked on it. We wanted to find a shell for Tezzeret the Schemer, and this is what we came up with:

We didn't actually get as far as developing a sideboard, because we had issues against the Dynavolt Tower Control decks. However, that was a deck we probably shoudn't have tested so much against, though we did so because half of Team Genesis ended up deciding to play Jeskai Dynavolt at the Pro Tour and we expected it to be a big deck. The matchup against Jeskai Copycat isn't great, but not nearly as bad as full-on control.

There were some good aspects about Grixis Tezzeret. This deck was handily beating Black-Green Energy. This should be a big pull for anyone brewing a deck right now. With black-green variants as the most popular archetype, having a strategy that has a good matchup there is a good place to start. The reason this deck has a favorable matchup there is the amount of removal – most games involver killing the early threats and then setting up with card advantage. There are a good amount of artifacts here to make Tezzeret, the Schemer better, and make Metallic Rebuke cost less.

Since we didn't get around to playing sideboarded games, I don't want to make too many claims about the deck without having the testing to back them up. This is definitely an under-explored area in Standard right now.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield




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