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Report of the MCQ Paris #2 – Standard War of the Spark (05/05/2019)

Hello everybody,

I’m Aurélien Blériot, aka Bombo on MTG Arena and on Discord. I just won the MCQ Paris #2, one of the first MCQ held in Europe, and here is my report. While I don’t have a good memory of how the games happened (i don’t take notes inbetween rounds), I’ll try to deliver my experience as best as I can, both about the personal field and with the deck I played

Personal context

While I played some table Magic with friends in the high school (alongside Yu-Gi-Oh) until 2007, I’ve never done anything remotely competitive about this game a dozen year ago. But as my interest for Yu-Gi-Oh slowly went away recently, for the balance of the game was getting more and more confusing and the new time rules were just frustrating, the public release of Arena got me in Magic again, twelve years after i had touched a product from Wizards of the Coast for the last time. Granted, discussing with friends that were playing both games also helped me to jump back into the game. Since MTG Arena looked like a fine product, i was willing to give it a try – only to become addicted because of how good the software was. From late january, i was using Arena enough to be Mythic every season (but january), not enough to grind the #1000 ladder by the end of them. I have a full time job, stick myself to the gym in the weekdays, and spend more time cooking than I want to, so I can’t exactly spend my weekends on Arena. Moreover, being more on the extravertite spectrum, I started going regularly to the local stores to train myself and meet some cool guys.

Context of the MCQ Paris

The MCQ Paris had two events, for each day of the weekend. Coming from a city located roughly 400km away from Paris, I devised that I’d better do both events. Shoutout to my friend Colin that was nice enough to host me. I ended the first event on a pretty disappointing 5-3, only to win the second one. 

These events were the first MCQ held in Europe, a week after the release of War of the Spark. Basically, the meta was fresh. In Yu-Gi-Oh, I used to like these situations where deckbuilding and general insights had significantly more value than in an established metagame, and where either creativity or the loyalty to a deck could be the most rewarding options.

This held especially true as my favorite deck, Izzet Phoenix, was becoming terrible by the end of the Allegiance standard, for multiple reasons :

  • The deck relied on a linear gameplan lacking options, having in the end only 8 killers (Phoenixes, Crackling).
  • This weakness made it very weak to any removal spell, especially those that exile creatures. Consequently, Esper Control was a bad matchup, as the top 8 feature with Luis Scott Vargas in the first Mythic Championship proved it. This was true with any form of control
  • While this deck is classified as aggro, I firmly disagree with this label. The following setup : « Turn 2 Electromancer, Turn 3 3 drawers discarding 2 Phoenixes, attack for 8 », was neither a likely plan, nor a very good one in the end. It could be relevant against some matchups, but ironically, I think Standard has more ways to deal with this situation than Modern (i.e. : maindeck Cry of the Carnarium, maindeck Lava Coil, maindeck Vraska’s Contempt, maindeck Cast Down). This deck is definitely a midrange deck to me, at least if you’re not too lucky and want to play it optimally. Which means it was free fodder for Nexus (and still is).
  • Finally, this deck was not having an easy time against real aggros. The mono red matchup wasn’t in Phoenix favor, and the mono white matchup was pretty even. A single well-timed Conclave Tribunal could still steal the game.

At the end of Allegiance season, I even wondered how LSV could achieve such a feat in february, as it looked like the deck had barely any good matchup. However, Phoenix was still good at something : it had a clear plan, and almost everything could be computed. You needed cantrips, you needed things to kill creatures, some enablers like Goblin Electromancer, some finishers like Phoenixes and Crackling Drakes, and in the end, drawing a lot meant you could access to your sideboard way more quickly than your opponent (hopefully).

Still, there were big failures in the whole frame :

  • Playing few lands and no actual CA engine, you couldn’t push the « counterspells » sideboard plan too far against control, for these decks are simply better at generating resources than you.
  • Cantrips can’t replace actual answers, so you could end up with an all-cantrips hand to dig for your Lava coils while your opponent is safely attacking/pinging you for 2, for 5, then for 10. Having no sweeper and few monsters in general, by the time your pieces would be settled, you’d have lost to an aggro deck.

One pattern can be seen in both these situations : you lack board presence. It’s critical vs control to apply pressure from the start (this is how you win the race), it’s critical vs aggro to chump attackers until you overwhelm them with your plan when everything was tied together. It’s only logicial you do, since you want to cantrip and ping until Phoenixes revive to deal lethal, and hopefully your Haste-less crackling would survive a turn after you cast it when it’s a 9/4. In this scheme, you want the maximum part of your deck to be card drawers, not monsters. No monster was good enough in these slots anyway.

While I didn’t have much expectations about the deck post-War, early testings on Arena proved me wrong, introducing three potential extra cards to this deck :

Augur of Bolas

Of course, I didn’t play when Augur of Bolas was first playable in Standard. From what i heard, it was a tool for control decks, and its reputation as a « Scry 3 bottom » was well-established. Regardless, I was very interested in this guy :

  • In a deck playing a good amount of instant/sorceries, the probabilities were very high that he’d reimburse itself
  • It’s an early drop. While the 2 ccm curve was already stuffed enough, I thought this guy had a very good value. The reason being
  • It chumpblocks very efficiently, especially against mono red and monowhite. You were never willing to chump with Electromancer, you’ve no problem doing it with this guy. And unlike Electromancer, it wouldn’t be a Cast down magnet, so you could keep your Electromancer for later when you can go all in and take advantage of your cards on spot.

So basically the deal was : turn 2, I cast augur to buy myself one, two or even more turns versus your aggro deck, i can even ping you for 1 against your control deck, and when finally you’ll deal with it, i’ll use the card it fetched me to summon my phoenixes and win in the air.

Something to point out is that the little guy survives to cry of the carnarium, which was critical in the finals of the MCQ.

Finale of Promise

Finale of Promise was tailor-made for Phoenixes decks. By re-casting, and not copying, resolving one meant that it revived all your Phoenixes. But even without these, this card is awesome. See what it can copy :

  • Instants : Opt, Shock, Lightning Strike, (Radical Idea)
  • Sorceries : Chart a course, Tormenting Voice, Lava Coil, (Beacon Bolt)

You always cast it for 4 ccm (3 with goblin in play), so you can make the best out of your sorceries. Just imagine : you cast Shock and Lava coil, meaning a pseudo-wrath. You cast Chart a course and Opt, so that you might have seen up to 4 cards in your libary, with a potential phoenix to discard and reborn right away. This card, while requiring setups and a specific deckbuilding in order that your ratios make it so you can cast both an instant and a sorcery for the full value, is plain amazing. Also, it makes the deck a bit less dependent on Goblin Electromancer, which previously was one of the only way to ensure you could cast 3 spells in the same turn until the late game. Given how much it was targetted by shocks, cast down, etc. this is a very good extra value of Finale of Promise.

Another major change it introduced was the viabilty of a burn tactic. While the deck didn’t have any real interest before at shocking the face, besides adding to the storm count, recasting a Lightning strike you’ve already directed to the face is suddenly much more interesting, especially when followed by a « phoenix for 1 spell ».

However, you don’t want to play a big curve, for you want to draw into as much cantrips as possible, so you can only run up to 2. Which i fine, as i think 3 would be clunky. Since it’s a 4-drop, it takes the place of 2 crackling drakes. As you emphasize more on Phoenixes, and as an alternative burn strategy emerges, this is totally fine, especially since you can cast Finale for 3 when you have electromancer in play

This card was so good my basic manabase went from 8 Island/4 Mountain pre-War, to 6 of each post-War.

Saheeli Sublime Artificer

The biggest addition however was Saheeli, Sublime Artificer. I don’t know where to start as this card is awesome, and redefines entirely matchups, wincons and options.

As I explained earlier, you lack early blockers versus aggro and early pressure vs control. This amazing Planeswalker resolves both cases. Only cast when it’s out of reach from the combat step and/or some strikes ; letting her more than a turn on the field is sometimes even as good as saying « I won ». Saheeli makes value out of a step you performed constantly without having anything in return : the whole cantrip fest. While before, you were stuck to dig for your deck until you got a phoenix that could meet Vraska’s contempt, now, you get an extra 3 tokens that can potentially become Crackling Drakes with haste. Either used as chumpblockers or attackers, they can swarm very easily, and i often launched an army of them versus 2 defending creatures, for the ping for 4 and the cantrips post-combat meant that Saheeli could be alive next turn while you effectively burnt your opponent with some cute-looking artifacts. This provided another win condition while not requiring its own plan, but perfectly going along with ours.

The effect is so amazing i have an hard time believing Saheeli doesn’t cost more than 3, but it does. As it is, the 3 cmc curve was only used for Beacon bolt : you have now a perfect spot for this empty curve, that added a « create a 1/1 token » additional effect to each of your instant, sorceries and even other planeswalkers.

 

All these changes made previously (slightly) bad to even matchups winnable and even favorable. The most drastic change i noticed was against mono red, where having a chumpblocker that searched for a bolt, a counter or a cantrip (Augur), a way to clean the board or draw en masse (Promise) and to create free chumpblockers/attackers out of your spells (Saheeli) made a previously bad matchup an even, if not positive one. As a matter of fact, I haven’t lost a single match against Mono Red in this event (I faced 4 of them). But suddenly, mono white became slightly in your favor, Esper control was much more close than it used to be, and Nexus… was still unwinnable, but it’s fine. At least our plan advanced more smoothly than in Allegiance, and had now more winconditions than it had before.

The decklist

Whole list : https://www.mtgtop8.com/event?e=21852&f=ST

Manabase

6 Island, 6 Mountain

4 Steam Vents, 4 Sulfur Falls

Even during Allegiance format, I used to run 20 lands. This is a bit risky for a bicolor deck that sometimes use multiple colored spells (crackling, finale, narset) but you want to play as few lands as possible to reap the biggest value out of your cantrips. It wouldn’t be possible without Electromancer, as he suddenly decreases your curve by a major factor. Which means he shouldn’t be slammed on turn 2 if you can’t already envision your next turn knowing he could be killed by a spot removal. I almost never keep a one-lander, the exceptions being if i’ve got 1 Opt 1 Shock and some cards on the 2 curve, if i’ve got 2 Opt or if i mulligan to five while having cheap spells. I even kept a 0-lander during the tournament that actually went along fine, but missing some land drops was fatal as my opponent could safely go aggro.

As for Blood Crypt for the Dispersal trick, I don’t consider this option at all. It’s very sketchy to me and you need those 2 extra Lives, trust me.

Cantrips

4 Opt

4 Chart a course

2 Tormenting Voice

2 Discovery

2 Radical Idea

(2 Finale of Promise)

It was hard to figure out which cantrip to play with Finale of Promise. Indeed, using Radical Idea with Finale killed the Jump start, while Discovery is simply impossible to use with Finale.

Yet, the deck has an urgent need for discard outlets. Chart a course is the bread and butter of this deck, but it wasn’t enough. You can’t max Tormenting Voice for it sucks really hard to a counter. Radical Idea, while slow vs aggro decks, provides drawing at two different moments while also giving a discard. I couldn’t cut it completely.

About the numbers, I think the right number of cantrip is around 15 or 16. I played less, on the paper, but basically, Finale acted as one, even two sometimes. This is also an amazing pro of the card : you had to make space for the amazing cards I praised earlier on, and thankfully Finale could act as a replacement for the spells you had to trim.

Shockers

4 Shock

2 Lava Coil

2 Lightning Strike

1 Beacon bolt

(2 Finale of Promise)

The biggest change was cutting 2 Lava coil for 2 Lightning Strike. As Nexus seemed very well-positioned in the early War environment, I wanted for the burn option to get more fuel, since Finale added in some viability to this plan. The release of a planeswalkers-filled set gave even more credit to lightning strike, as players carelessly slam some minus effect only to get their value engine shocked/struck. It also appeared to be a good option vs control decks, and one i actually hardly sided out against these decks despite siding out Finale in the meantime, in order to deal with the random Thief, the random Ooze, or just to get rid of my opponent ! 

Creatures & Planeswalkers

2 Augur of Bolas

4 Goblin Electromancer

3 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer

4 Arclight Phoenix

2 Crackling Drake

While i’m pretty sure some will be afraid to play less than 4 drakes, I’m absolutely certain that 2 is the right number, as long as you play Saheeli to sometimes give haste to one of them. The deck became more fluid, more constant and in general better shaped against almost every kind of deck, that if you don’t see any crackling, you’ll still be fine killing with a flurry of little artifacts and/or phoenixes.

Saheeli is amazing but the legendary rule, while still providing an extra servo, refrains me from playing a 4th one. It still gets drawn constantly thanks to the very core of the deck, and wins the game thanks to this core if not dealt with quickly enough.

I can’t think of a lot of comments to be made here, so let’s skip to the sideboard

Sideboard

2 Lava Coil

1 Beacon Bolt

2 Spell Pierce

2 Negate

2 Disdainful Stroke

2 Narset, Parter of Veils

3 Legion Warboss

1 Island

 

Siding with Phoenix has three main aspects :

  • Against Aggro : usually, your plan is to first deal with their threats thanks to the shockers, then you overwhelm them with an army of servos, phoenixes or even electromancer. Deal with everything early, then safely pick the game once you’ve burnt it to the ground.

– Mono Red : cut Beacon Bolt (too expensive), two Radical Ideas (too slow) and a Discovery (idem), add 2 Lava Coils and 2 Spell Pierce. If possible, save the first for whirlers and Rekindling Phoenixes, the latters for Risk Factors, Frenzy or Chandra.

– Mono White : cut two Radical Ideas and a Discovery, add 2 Lava Coil and a Beacon bolt.

– Gruul : idem.

– Rakdos/Aristocrats : idem. Unsure about playing the 2nd Beacon bolt

  • Against Midrange : this is your category. You’re fortunately less weak to plainswalkers thanks to Saheeli and Lightning Strike. You must deal with threats that come a bit later in the game. The burn plan shines in these matchups, as a god-eternal could otherwiser quickly spell « game over ».

– Sultai/Bant Midrange : cut 1 augur, 4 shocks, add 2 Lava coils, 1 Beacon Bolt, 2 Disdainful stroke. I know that the 1-of augur is awkward, but i have nothing better to side in to replace it, nor out instead of him. If you’re worried, i guess you could replace the 2nd one with an island, though I didn’t design the island for this (see later).

– Esper Midrange (Precint Esper) : cut 2 augur and 1 radical idea, add 2 Lava Coils and a Beacon Bolt. You don’t want to be facing Lyra.

  • Against Control/Combo : We use approximately the same weapons vs both of them. Your purpose is to win the race, while being ready to counter the critical spells. Electromancer makes counters cost only 1, also bluffing Spell Pierce is of immense value when they saw one already.

– General sideboard plan : cut 2 Lava coil, 4 Shock, 2 Augur, 2 Finale, and depending on what you see and expect, a mix of strike, bolts or discovery. Add the 21th island, the 3 warbosses, the Narsets, all the counters.

It’s hard to define a clear plan of sideboarding, for the metagame isn’t well-known yet. For instance, in the finals against Jin Liu’s Esper midrangey-control deck, i didn’t sideboard the Warbosses in for i would have had a hard time dealing with them if he stole one with thief/hostage taker.

The 21th Island was a last minute inclusion. Day 1, my sideboard was the same but the 3rd warboss and the island, plus 2 Ral Storm Conduit. Ultimately, Ral was too slow, while Warboss put such a pressure on Nexus and control decks that I had to add in the 3rd one. The last slot was a big question mark. One-of Ral (any of them) wouldn’t have done better, and I was already concerned by the curve of this deck. I needed this last slot to be a tool vs Nexus and Controls, as they were bad matchups with a lot of dead cards in the main. Niv-Mizzet is too slow to come vs Nexus and in general hard to cast in this deck when, after 4 lands, you tend to discard/mill them as quick as possible to get to your cantrips and real threats. Not to mention it bites the dust to any Blink of an Eye/Mortify, while leaving you full tapped with counters in hand versus your opponent’s win conditions.

I also had difficulty defining an identity to this deck post-side against Control. You had to let mana ups for counters, which hinders your capacity to put pressure, and yet hardcasting Phoenix was a lot of mana for this plan to go safe, meaning Phoenix would hardly get summoned until the late game. In the end, i think the deck is better at being tempo-oriented against Control, which means casting an early electromancer/saheeli, holding the fort, making progressive value, slamming a warboss on curve if you happen to have it (better have a counter to back it up later in the game, so that he can come in the field despite absorbs), taking advantage of their greedy turns they had to take to deal with your threats to play a Narset that searches into your counterspells while preventing them from making value.

For this plan to come to fruition, you’re required to have both a threat and some mana to protect it. I’ve always felt a little short on lands vs control, and since you don’t want to rush as badly as you do in your usual scheme, I think the Island was the best slot that could be. I played my lone Unstable Island in this slot so that I could differentiate it from my regular basic lands : I can say it’s come useful more than once 😉

Conclusion

I don’t realize what this win means, coming from Yu-Gi-Oh in which winning a regional wasn’t all that amazing, but it’s apparently something pretty good. I’m glad Arena exists, for I could never have reached that level without this beautiful and easy to play software. I’m also glad it was pretty easy to cross the lap between the two TCGs.

Now, the event for which I’ve earned a qualification (Mythic Championship Barcelona) will use the Modern format, of which I have absolutely no experience of. I’m a bit concerned as MTG Online seems to be less user-friendly than MTG Arena, and that it requires much more time to be good at playing Modern than playing Standard. But i’ll do my best and hopefully i’ll see you in Barcelona !

 

Discord for questions : Bombo#7631

Aurélien Blériot

Consultant & Chef de projet SEO en freelance, j'ai une forte affinité technique avec le référencement naturel.
Cartésien et curieux, je publie des articles synthétiques principalement venus d'études SEO.

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