Heart of Kiran is good in Standard (and other platitudes)

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Tournament Magic necessitates a borderline-fanatical amount of dedication. Not only are the required commitments of time and money outright Herculean, but the emotional fortitude it takes to weather the inevitable cold streaks is easily overlooked. I’ve mentioned it before, but this game appeals to an odd group of people.

If we were normal, we’d be spending the mammoth amount of energy we put in this game into getting outrageously ripped and, I dunno, buying Bitcoin or something. It takes a real bunch of weirdos to find it reasonable to spend the time commitment of a full-time job each week grinding match-after-match on an online game pulled straight out of 2003 — just to stay baseline competitive. Never mind those who make it their job. The most successful Magic pros make under 10k a year in winnings. We’re out of our minds. This game is so compelling that we’re willing to overlook the myriad of ways in which our hobby is destroying us just to keep playing. Each Grand Prix now costs a limb to enter and pays out in pebbles, but we’re still there, hunting down the last few cards for our sideboards, chasing the wins. Somehow, I’m still here.

My season’s been going pretty poorly. I had a great first half of 2017, making the elimination rounds of four major events. Despite missing Silver by a hair and having an emotional breakdown over it, I had a hard time feeling all that bad for myself, enjoying my free vacation in Japan. It wasn’t my first time outright losing my mind at a Pro Tour, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I fought hard, and came through at the next RPTQ. I felt my redemption arc coming, but a series of poor drafts at PT Ixalan soured my 9-1 Standard run, and I was back at square one. Yeah, I had enough points to stay bronze for the rest of my life, but as you might have surmised from the last paragraph, what Magic player is content with that level of mediocrity?

I was in the sunken place after a slew of bad finishes, falling off the SCG Invitational train and failing to qualify for PT Rivals of Ixalan. I was out of money, out of sanity, and subsisting solely on friendship and the absurd amount of privilege that let me live this life in the first place. The life of a degenerate Magic player. I started working weekends, trying to get my finances back in order after a year of hotels and airport meals. The Grand Prix schedule was bad anyways. Every event was Team Sealed, and I’m not good enough to attract a team strong enough to justify the travel. And so my weekends were relegated to absentmindedly missing land-drops in MOCS Opens while explaining to wide-eyed customers that no, they could not register for YuGiOh three hours in advance. Please come back at a more reasonable time. I’m busy, after all.

Those of you who’ve been around the game a while might have noticed something, however. It’s downright impossible to quit Magic. Just when you think you’re done, when the game brings you no more joy, when it’s about to become just a chore, it sucks you back in. As it did for many others, Dominaria did it for me. A new Standard format. A new puzzle to solve. Eagerly looking at the top decks from yet another team trios SCG, comparing them to the 5-0 online lists that the algorithm decided to grace us with this week. God, I love deckbuilding. The drive was back. I double-check the online schedule. Yes, there’s a Standard PTQ. It should be a quiet day at work, I can play. I spend the week putting together a build of B/W Vehicles to my tastes, with a trademark outrageous sideboard plan. All these cheap three-power creatures suck at attacking against a wide swath of the metagame, so I’m going to board them all out in favour of a bunch of Fumigates and Treasure Maps. Hell yeah. I hope it works.

Daniel Fournier, 1st Place MTGO PTQ, 12.05.2018 – B/W Vehicles

It went pretty well. I won the event without dropping a match. At one point, my buddy sitting next to me and I were both 7-0, and dodged getting paired to each other. I felt like we were bending the rules of the universe, and that there was no way I could lose. When my finals opponent played a Winding Constrictor on turn 2, I yelled something incoherent about it being a great time to get a bye. A Korean couple in matching shirts browsing board games gave me a weird look. I couldn’t care less.

My opponent complained in Game 3, flooding out, that he had lost, I dunno, seven thousand PTQ Top 8s. Sorry buddy, I’m sure your time will come, but tonight, you’re a chapter in my story. We somehow got through twelve rounds in ten hours, and I ran out to see a comedy show with my dad. I had never laughed harder in my life, and I have no idea if it was the jokes, the alcohol, or just how damn happy I was to get the demon off my back. All the depression and anxiety of the past months melted away, and even if it was only temporary, I was happy for the relief. I couldn’t get complacent though, as GP Toronto was mere days away, and I didn’t want to let my team down. I went home and logged back on. “Maybe Mono-Red is good in this metagame.”

Damn, is this ever an unhealthy lifestyle.

Standard moves at lightning speed these days. That PTQ was a scant three weeks ago, but it feels like a lifetime. The metagame changed practically overnight, as Matthew Foulkes infamously tweeted a R/B deck with a “PERFECT SIDEBOARD GUIDE”, flooding the top tables of both the PTQ and GP Birmingham. Two days later, the R/B players had all adjusted to the mirror by cutting one-drops and playing a more dedicated midrange game. This, I thought, spelled death for my BW deck, with its aggressive plan unable to break through Goblin Chainwhirler and its sideboard pivot no longer catching people off-guard. I took it through some leagues, and felt like I had proven my hypothesis. They just had too many planeswalkers for me to keep up with and Glorybringer kept ruining my day. I left my trusty Toolcraft Exemplars by the wayside and worked on an extensive sideboard guide for the Goblin-Knife-User and his other red midrange buddies.

Brad Nelson featured my B/W deck alongside some others in an article that week, jokingly attributing the list to Toronto Magic legend Lucas Siow. A few days later, Lucas and teammates beat down Brad’s team in the finals of the GP, with a much purer Siow list in the Standard seat. Highlights of Morgan Mclaughlin’s wild deck include a singleton copy of Gideon’s Reproach in the sideboard and a wild 3/2 split of Ixalan’s Binding/Cast Out. Genius? Madness? You decide.

GP Toronto went poorly for me personally, as I lost an undue number of matches, mostly mirrors, to an unseasonable number of mulligans and missed land-drops. My teammates carried me through, finishing one spot outside of cash, but nobody likes to be dead weight. I still think that my preparation was adequate and that my deck and plans were good, despite things not breaking in my favour. Once again, the metagame has shifted somewhat, with Scarab God decks regaining a bunch of popularity online. This deck was built with these strategies in mind, but Goblin Chainwhirler probably isn’t where you want to be when staring down cards like The Scarab God and Torrential Gearhulk.

Daniel Fournier, GP Toronto, 19.05.2018 – R/B Vehicles

I liked the approach Martin Juza had taken at GP Birmingham, cutting bad creatures and focusing on the deck’s strengths in the midrange role. I wanted to streamline that further, stopping the deck’s reliance on temperamental lands like Aether Hub and Spire of Industry. After all, you only really need 22 red sources for Goblin Chainwhirler to function. Much like with the B/W deck from the previous weekend, I wanted to be able to pivot fully into the midrange plan, cutting as many copies of Scrapheap Scrounger and Heart of Kiran as often as I could. Duress took up the role of pressuring planeswalkers, albeit in a very different way, and a full set of Glorybringers and Rekindling Phoenixes rounded-out my big dumb red dorks strategy.

At the last minute, I changed a sideboard Vraska’s Contempt to an Hour of Glory for mana considerations, and sideboard copies of Arguel’s Blood Fast became Karn, Scion of Urza, conscious of the fact that I wanted to be spending my mana every turn on big dorks and big interaction, not on incremental card advantage. I wanted big, impactful cards, and nothing else.

I do still think this deck is good, especially in a metagame rife with aggressive midrange decks and green monstrosities. If you’re expecting to stare down a lot of Vraska’s Contempts and The Scarab Gods, you might be best off playing Bomat Couriers in your red decks. Brad’s U/W deck is also very viable, but only if you’re a stone cold master who never makes mistakes, as is the norm with control decks these days.

Thanks for sticking through this with me. I know it was a weird one. I know I’m not a brain genius like the people putting out strategy masterpieces on SCG premium, and I just don’t have the insight or the skill at communicating that insight as, say, Gerry and Bryan on the GAM podcast. What I do have, though, is a story to tell. A messy, honest story. So thanks for being here, and hopefully you learned something going along the way. Anyways, join me next time for, in all likelihood, a deep dive on whatever Standard deck I’ve been working on, or maybe some incendiary social piece. Who knows? In the meantime, here, have a sideboard guide for my weird R/B list.

VS MIRROR
IN
1 Hour of Glory
1 Glorybringer
2 Chandra’s Defeat
2 Karn, Scion of Urza
3 Duress
2 Doomfall
OUT
3 Heart of Kiran
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
2 Walking Ballista
2 Magma Spray (these can stay in on the draw vs someone leaving in Scrounger)

VS U/W CONTROL
IN
4 Duress
2 Doomfall
1 Angrath, the Flame-Chained
2 Karn, Scion of Urza
OUT
4 Abrade
2 Magma Spray
2 Walking Ballista
1 Unlicensed Disintegration
(-1 Glorybringer for more Unlicensed if Lyra)

VS W/B VEHICLES
IN
4 Duress
1 Glorybringer
1 Hour of Glory
1 Karn, Scion of Urza
OUT
2 Walking Ballista
2 Magma Spray
1 Heart of Kiran
1 Scrapheap Scrounger
1 Abrade

VS B/G CONSTRICTOR
IN
2 Cut//Ribbons
2 Doomfall
1 Angrath, the Flame-Chained
1 Glorybringer
1 Hour of Glory
2 Duress
OUT
2 Walking Ballista
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
3 Heart of Kiran

VS MONO RED
IN
2 Chandra’s Defeat
2 Cut//Ribbons
1 Hour of Glory
1 Glorybringer
2 Doomfall
OUT
1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
3 Heart of Kiran

VS GREEN STOMPY
IN
2 Cut//Ribbons
1 Hour of Glory
1 Glorybringer
2 Doomfall
OUT
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
2 Walking Ballista

VS U/B SCARAB GOD
IN
1 Angrath, the Flame-Chained
1 Glorybringer
1 Hour of Glory
2 Doomfall
2 Karn, Scion of Urza
OUT
2 Magma Spray
3 Heart of Kiran
2 Walking Ballista

VS U/W GIFT
IN
4 Duress
1 Angrath, the Flame-Chained
2 Doomfall
OUT
2 Magma Spray
2 Walking Ballista
1 Glorybringer
1 Unlicensed Disintegration
1 Goblin Chainwhirler

VS MONO-BLACK
IN
1 Angrath, the Flame-Chained
1 Glorybringer
2 Karn, Scion of Urza
1 Hour of Glory
2 Doomfall
2 Duress
OUT
2 Magma Spray
2 Walking Ballista
3 Heart of Kiran
2 Abrade

VS RED GIFT
IN
3 Duress
1 Glorybringer
OUT
3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Walking Ballista

VS BUG SCARAB GOD
IN
2 Cut//Ribbons
1 Angrath, the Flame-Chained
1 Karn, Scion of Urza
1 Hour of Glory
2 Doomfall
1 Glorybringer
OUT
2 Magma Spray
2 Walking Ballista
3 Heart of Kiran
1 Abrade

VS GRIXIS IMPROVISE
IN
2 Doomfall
4 Duress
1 Angrath, the Flame-Chained
2 Karn, Scion of Urza
1 Hour of Glory
OUT
2 Walking Ballista
2 Magma Spray
4 Abrade
1 Glorybringer
1 Heart of Kiran

VS BANT TEFERI
IN
2 Doomfall
1 Glorybringer
1 Hour of Glory
2 Duress
OUT
2 Walking Ballista
2 Magma Spray
1 Goblin Chainwhirler
1 Abrade

VS R/G MONSTERS
IN
2 Cut//Ribbons
2 Chandra’s Defeat
1 Karn, Scion of Urza
1 Glorybringer
2 Doomfall
1 Hour of Glory
OUT
2 Walking Ballista
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
3 Heart of Kiran

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