June 6, 2016

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Under the Radar - GP Minneapolis: "A Token Effort" (Day 1)

(If you rolled your eyes at the pun in the title, you may be in for a rough time due to my well-documented love affair with wordplay.)

Greetings readers!

As this is my first article for MTGCanada, a brief introduction is in order. My name is Johnathan Bentley, a grinder and aspiring pro who has not yet broken through to the Pro Tour - this is the reason why my column name thus far has been "Under the Radar" no matter which site I've written for (Any curious readers can Google "Johnathan Bentley 'Under the Radar'" to find my earlier work from ManaDeprived.com and LegitMTG.com). I live in Ottawa and play at (for?) the Wizard's Tower. My first deck was Onslaught Red-Green Beasts and my first competitive deck was Ghazi-Glare from Kamigawa-Ravnica Standard. I've been playing competitively since Zendikar.

My weapon of choice for this tournament was Green-White Tokens. There are some interesting parallels between this deck and Ghazi-Glare, but I'll leave that for another time.

The list:

I was originally planning to quickly go over how to approach each matchup, but by sheer luck (probability) I faced a representative sample of this Standard format and will address each matchup as they come up. My foes:

  • Chicken Sandwich: 2 (for those not "in on" the joke, these are byes... I have yet to lose this matchup)
  • BW Control: 2
  • 4C Rites: 3
  • GW Tokens: 2
  • Esper Dragons: 1
  • UR Flash: 1
  • BR Control (Grixis minus Blue): 1
  • Bant Rites: 1
  • White Eldrazi: 1
  • Naya Ramp: 1

The only deck I didn't really face was Humans, which I predicted to some degree... they did have a bit of a comeback at this tournament but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Day 0

I arrived in Minneapolis (barely, since the flight I was on was cancelled but l managed to get the last seat on an earlier one) in the afternoon and met up with Pascal Maynard, who had arranged the room. The logo of the hotel caused me to do a double-take:

Similar enough to my eyes, anyway.

Regarding Minneapolis: It's great. The public transportation is efficient and clean which I find is often a sneaky indicator of how well the city runs things. Their buses are coach buses that have free WiFi. In the downtown area, most of the buildings are connected by over-the-road passages called the Skyway:

Minneapolis Downtown

The Skyway connects to the Hotels and the Convention Center (why wouldn't it?) and the Convention Center halls are also quite nice:

Minneapolis Convention Center

Those are two rings of catwalks, and Wizards employees were up there taking pictures.

If you get the chance to go to Minneapolis next time there's a GP there, I strongly recommend it.

Day 1

GP Attendance: 1530 players

Christian Calcano flew in and met us for breakfast at The News Room, which astute readers might have noticed in the middle photo above.

Round 1 & 2: Chicken Sandwich

Match Result: 2-0, 2-0
Overall Score: 2-0
Overall Score in Games: 4-0 
(but this doesn't really count)

Round 3: Keith Watson with BW Control

How I play the matchup: Make their removal bad, while always trying to present at least enough threats to kill a Planeswalker if they tap out. You have to play into it a little because otherwise they can use one-for-one removal and you fall too far behind. You can never truly avoid Languish and other sweepers, but things like Planeswalkers, Hangarback Walker, and Archangel Avacyn allow you to sidestep that stuff a bit. If you resolve an Evolutionary Leap, it feels like you can't lose.

It played out in textbook fashion. Hangarback and Gideon made Languish bad, I killed his Gideon when he played it in Game 1 and he flooded out a bit in Game 2.

Match Result: 2-0
Overall Score:
Overall Score in Games: 6-0

Round 4: Adam Dally with 4C Rites

How I play the matchup: This matchup revolves around two cards on their side: Cryptolith Rite and Eldrazi Displacer. Luckily, Dromoka's Command can get Rite, and GW Tokens plays four. For this reason, it's usually a mistake to use it when you're not destroying an enchantment. Displacer is more difficult, but if they don't have Rite in play it's hard for them to play Displacer and leave up mana to activate it in the same turn. This means you can sometimes have a one turn window to use Dromoka's Command before Displacer turns off the "fight" mode on the card. Reflector Mage is annoying but if they draw four Reflector Mage and zero Displacer I still think GW Tokens wins given otherwise average draws on both sides.

Game 1 was a non-game for me, Game 2 was a non-game for him (due to mana screw in both cases). Game 3, he couldn't find his fourth land for a while, and my two Declaration in Stones exiled two creatures each giving me more than enough tempo to take the game.

Match Result: 2-1
Overall Score:
Overall Score in Games: 8-1

Round 5: Shota Yasooka with Esper Dragons

How I play the matchup: Similarly to BW Control, the goal is to not play into Languish. The difference is that this deck plays counterspells - so sequencing of threats is important. You do need to develop in the early turns because Dragonlord Ojutai is pretty annoying from their side - it protects itself until they can untap and use their counterspells to protect their threat. Planeswalkers are very important in this match because they can't threaten them efficiently, except sometimes they just steal them with Dragonlord Silumgar so you want to keep them at low-ish loyalty levels. Evolutionary Leap is good here as is Hangarback Walker. Watch out for Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet as he is a must-kill threat.

Given Shota's well-documented history of playing control decks, it should surprise no one that he plays very quickly. This match was the first time I've ever played a Hall of Famer in sanctioned Magic. Game 1, I killed his Kalitas, and had my second Dromoka's Command ready to kill his Dragonlord Ojutai on attack, but my attempt was met by Archangel Avacyn.

The rest of the game was mercifully quick, I died in the sky in short order.

I took Game 2 by curving out. Gave him the ol' 1-2-3-4-5: Oath of Nissa into Sylvan Advocate into Nissa, Voice of Zendikar into Gideon, Ally of Zendikar into Avacyn. To me, this "nut draw" (all four-ofs with Oath to add consistency) is one of the reasons to play the deck.

Game 3 I had minor flood issues, and I almost got back in it but was blown out by Avacyn yet again. Later on, I looked at his list (as he went 12-3):

One Avacyn in the 75. Yep.

Match Result: 1-2
Overall Score:
Overall Score in Games: 9-3

Round 6: Sage Sanchez with GW Tokens

How I play the matchup: The mirror is one of the reasons I play Evolutionary Leap in the main. The day before Grand Prix Toronto, I tested the mirror for two hours with Guillaume Belley and in all the testing I've played, and all the games I've played before or since, when one player has Leap and the other one doesn't, the Leap player has won. Sample size: something like thirty to forty games. It sends your Hangarback to the air which helps in threatening Planewalkers, which is the important task in the mirror. Leap is also the best way to flip Avacyn, even the turn she comes down! While your opponent has a Planeswalker in play, you need to devote resources to killing it. Try and save Dromoka's Command to kill Avacyn. Safe attacks > No attacks > Risky attacks in most cases. There aren't a lot of ways to catch up from behind Game 1, but there also aren't a lot of ways to break through board stalls. Usually an Avacyn flip or an Ormendahl, Profane Prince ends the game. After board Tragic Arrogance is brought in, this makes Hangarback valuable for your Arrogances and a vulnerability for when your opponent casts it.

Game 1 showcased the awesome power of Den Protector, as it felt like I could never run out of resources. Game 2 he flooded out a bit.

Match Result: 2-0
Overall Score: 5-1
Overall Score in Games: 11-3

Round 7: Adam Jansen with BR Control

How I play the matchup: This deck played many of the same cards as Grixis, so the same strategy applies: make their sweepers bad, play resilient threats. Having high toughness creatures is worth its weight in gold in this matchup - if you're about to play Sylvan Advocate on turn five, maybe wait until it's a 4/5 since this would dodge both Languish and Chandra's -4 ability. Dromoka's Command can stop the damage on Radiant Flames also, it's probably the least used mode on that card.

Adam recognized the Wizard's Tower, as he was part of Pro Tour teams involving hometown heroes Dan Lanthier and Ben Moir at different times. Game 1 I kept a hand that would have rolled over and died to Mono-White Humans or anything really quick but was great against Control - and the gambit paid off. His Transgress the Mind took no cards out of my hand, since my deck only has 12 targets in Game 1. In Game 2 Den Protectors brought back the same Dromoka's Command twice, for the win.

Match Result: 2-0
Overall Score: 6-1
Overall Score in Games: 13-3

Round 8: Tony Preeshl with 4C Rites

This was a close three games. In game 3, after I made blocks so that Avacyn would flip, he played out the last card of his hand: Dragonlord Silumgar, stealing my Avacyn and preventing the trigger. I cracked my last clue and found the Declaration I needed to get my Avacyn back, allowing me use my Dromoka's Command to intentionally lose a token in a fight to trigger Avacyn and sweep his board. A very big swing in fortunes, I probably lose that game if I didn't find one of my four Declarations. Thanks, clue!

Match Result: 2-1
Overall Score: 7-1
Overall Score in Games: 15-4

Round 9: Tomoharu Saito with UR Flash

How I play this matchup: ???

Game 1, here is his sequence of plays:

I was quite surprised, to say the least. I killed the first Vision with a Dromoka's Command but he played a second one. I managed to get Hangarback tokens in the air to chump the Castigator but was on the backfoot the whole game - having rolled boxcars (double sixes) he was on the play which seems like a big deal in this matchup especially.

I took Game 2 by dealing him exactsies: he likely made a bad attack and said as much after the game, since he attacked with everything to put me to two but he had three 2/1 fliers and my deck didn't have a ton of way to block in the air. My only way to threaten lethal was to tap out, meaning he could still elect not to block if I didn't tap out and threaten lethal, killing me the turn after.

Game 3 he dealt me eight damage with 2/1 fliers and 12 damage from Exquisite Firecrafts. I foolishly used a Dromoka's Command to kill a flyer but if I had held it up for the rest of the game I would have taken 12 damage from flyers and eight from Exquisite Firecraft, so I was damned either way.

Saito also 12-3'ed, and his list has been made available:

Tomoharu Saito's UR Flash

A very easy decklist to read.

Todd Anderson wrote an article on the deck on StarcityGames, it was on the premium side. If this deck becomes more popular, it might necessitate some changes to GW since it is relatively soft to UR Flash in its current configuration.

Match Result: 1-2
Overall Score: 7-2
Overall Score in Games: 16-6

After Round nine ended, we found the closest pub to the tournament centre: BRIT'S Pub. Their menu had some interesting options:

Cod Pieces

I elected not to munch on their cod pieces.

After watching the Golden State Warriors win a tense game six (an amazing game to watch) we were ready for Day two

To be continued... thanks for reading!

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMBent and find me on MTGO at: fightingmongoose.