The Magic AD Invitational

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Happy holidays everyone!

In true Christmas spirit, I played with some green and red cards last weekend (and a ton of black and blue ones, because, eh… I wanted to win), and I found myself scooping the finals of the Magic AD Invitational to stick with the theme.

The Magic AD Invitational is somewhat like the StarCityGames Invitational, where the strongest competitors from the related Open Series are invited to play in a multi-format tournament for prizes and glory. Of course, with the Netherlands (where I currently reside) being a wee-bit smaller than the United States, the tournaments are a bit smaller too, but you could say the tournament is harder than a Pro Tour … Qualifier (and you’d most likely still be wrong).

Regardless, there are a bunch of good, active Dutch players gathered to duke it out in Standard, Modern, and a Modern Masters draft in the top eight. I got to play all three formats, finishing first after the Swiss, and since we split the top-four prize money, I ended up handing the one thing we were still playing for—an invitation to next year’s Invitational—to my opponent in the finals. I am not planning to be in the Netherlands for the next Invitational (and unlike the SCG Invitational, it’s probably not worth flying to), so I’d rather have someone else put it to good use. Christmas spirit and all!

Now, onto the subject that people actually care about: the decklists! In Standard, I took the lessons I got from Andy Peters on playing the Mono-Black deck to good use, despite not using his exact 75. When we talked, he was still on Mono-Black, and what I played was not Mono-Black. I splashed some green:

This deck plays almost exactly the same as Mono-Black, but you have a couple of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s start with the biggest advantage, and in my opinion the reason to play this deck over Mono-Black: Abrupt Decay.

There are plenty of removal options at two mana in black, but none of them feel great. Ultimate Price misses Nightveil Specters out of Mono-Blue and Mono-Black, and Frostburn Weirds out of Rx Devotion and Mono-Blue. It also misses Boros Reckoners and Rakdos Cacklers out of red decks, which is not irrelevant. Doom Blade misses most gravely in the mirror and still misses Nightveil Specter and Rakdos Cackler against other decks. Devour Flesh is probably the best, but not being able to target is a big concern against people with access to Mutavaults (remember to play Devour Flesh in your main phase to play around them playing a Mutavault) or mana dorks, or against something like Master of Waves. All three are generally dead in the UW Control matchups, and only Devour Flesh is likely relevant against Esper.

Abrupt Decay, though, kills everything I mentioned so far, except for Master of Waves. It doesn’t kill Desecration Demon or things like Polukranos and Stormbreath Dragon. However, all the things Abrupt Decay doesn’t kill cost more than mana, so you have time to Hero’s Downfall them. Plus, these big baddies can often reasonably be taken care of with Devour Flesh as well. And let’s be honest, what do you think you’ll see more often in a PTQ these days: Polukranos or Nightveil Specter?

Abrupt Decay also makes your matchup against control very good. Because your deck is full of must-answer threats against them already, their Detention Spheres and Supreme Verdicts are overworked. Being able to destroy a Detention Sphere, bringing back whatever threat they had to deal with, wins many games. Abrupt Decay hasn’t seen much play lately either, so you might see a surprised opponent try to desperately Dissolve your Decay. Go ahead and scry, buddy! Now, let me get my Demons back.

I am not kidding when I say that I haven’t lost a sanctioned match against UWx variants since I started playing Abrupt Decays, so if UW is big in your local meta, I’d urge you to try them.

Abrupt Decay also changes a lot of the dynamics in the mirror. Normally, you’d be forced to sideboard in at least a couple of Duresses, because Underworld Connections is the most important card to win longer games in the mirror (the shorter games are often decided by Pack Rat). If you don’t have a discard spell for the Connections, and they do for yours, you might very well lose on the spot. If you both have discard spells, now it’s up to whomever draws their second copy first to run away with the game. With Abrupt Decay, you can actually deal with a resolved Connections, so you don’t need the discard spells as much, and with the control matchup improving so much thanks to Abrupt Decay, I could actually cut the Duresses from my sideboard entirely. The fact that Decay doesn’t hit Demon is not much of an issue, since most people board them out anyway, and if they don’t you still have Hero’s Downfall and Dark Betrayal after board, which you don’t even have to save for Nightveil Specter anymore, because Abrupt Decay deals with that too.

The other two reasons for green are Gaze of Granite and Golgari Charm. I also tried Mistcutter Hydras, but they are mostly just worse Lifebane Zombies. The Charm is mainly for control matchups (more ways to destroy Detention Sphere, and a counter to Supreme Verdict; it also kills Elspeth tokens, letting you attack the ‘walker directly) and for white aggressive decks (wipe their board). I even boarded one in against the mirror since it’s an extra way to kill an Underworld Connections and can kill a turn-two Pack Rat or save a creature from removal in a pinch.

The Gaze is a five-mana sweeper against most aggressive decks or against Pack Rat and is an even more expensive reset button against anything where you get behind. It can also kill multiple Detention Spheres or Underworld Connections in rare cases, but I don’t board the second one in against those. The second is just an extra sweeper against aggressive decks, because you need the help there. Why? Well, because of the biggest disadvantage of this deck over Mono-Black: you are playing a worse manabase.

First of all, you have more “enters the battlefield tapped” lands than the usual list, and you have fewer Mutavaults. I don’t think you can play four Mutavaults and still expect to reliably cast a Hero’s Downfall or Lifebane Zombie on turn three with the above deck, and that was enough reason for me to only play three. Perhaps you could cut a Temple for another Golgari Guildgate and go back up to four Mutavaults, but I’m not sure I like that change when I’m already playing one land fewer than a lot of people. Switching a Temple for a Guildgate helps with casting the double-black spells, but adding a fourth colorless land does cut into your ways to cast Nightveil Specter on turn three.

Having a bunch of tapped lands hurts in the aggro matchups, but those are less prevalent than Mono-Blue, Mono-Black and UW Control decks are, and Golgari Charm and Gaze help you catch up, so I felt it was worth it for a tournament where most people will be bringing tier-one decks.

The last point about the deck is about the sideboard: I know it is almost sacrilegious to have so few Dark Betrayals in the board, but I needed the sideboard slots for other removal. Doom Blade is necessary in multiples against green decks when you have Abrupt Decay main, and the extra Devour Flesh was there to deal with Blood Barons out of Bw Midrange. (If I wasn’t afraid of this deck, I’d play the fourth Abrupt Decay main over the second Devour Flesh.) Considering most people are boarding out Demons in the mirror, and Abrupt Decay deals with everything that’s left but Gray Merchant of Asphodel, I felt fine not having more. People are shaving Hero’s Downfalls for them in the mirror anyway, and I don’t think that a simple upgrade of removal is worth losing the two slots in my sideboard. (Don’t do this when you’re playing Mono Black; you want every good removal spell available there to deal with Nightveil and Pack Rat. Just don’t board out your Downfalls.) I did have multiple Whips in the 75 to help my mirror match even more; other decks can’t deal with them outside of discard spells, so if I ever topdeck one, it’ll probably run away with the game, while I have a Golgari Charm and a Gaze in case they happen to have Whips too.

After going undefeated in Standard, we went on to Modern, where I got to whip out my favorite deck in the format: Cruel Control. I expected a lot of Jund and other BGx variants, so I didn’t mind running the deck back despite not getting the result I wanted at the last big Modern event I played. The list:

I did not make many changes compared to last time I played the list. I considered playing a build with Talisman of Dominance ramping into Jace, Architect of Thought, or Chandra, Pyromaster, but I didn’t have enough time to test that build. In case you dislike the Teachings in the above list, here’s the list I was going to play around with:

Since I hadn’t played much Modern since Grand Prix: Antwerp (I only played one larger tournament where I punted away the semis with Infect), I was a little rusty. My first game I played against Junk and forgot to flashback my Mystical Teachings to get a Consume the Meek, which would’ve dealt with the two Tarmogoyfs that now killed me before I could find the seventh land I needed to carry out my Cruel intentions. Whoops. Thankfully, my deck refuses to lose to green decks, and I took the next two games without too much trouble.

The next round, I took another “interesting” line when my empty-handed opponent had just equipped a Batterskull to a freshly cast Deathrite Shaman, and was ticking up a Liliana to an ultimate. I had already played a Cruel Ultimatum which dealt with the Germ, and I had a Snapcaster in hand. I tried to figure out a way to deal with the Liliana and the Batterskull, because my flashbacked Cruel could take care of the Deathrite. I had enough mana to use a Cryptic Command to bounce the Deathrite end of turn, leaving my opponent without blockers, then I could Snapcaster back a Lightning Bolt, and put the Liliana to one counter if he plussed it this turn. I could then Teachings for a Rakdos Charm to get rid of the Batterskull. Sweet! So, I discarded a Think Twice to his Liliana activation, bounced his Deathrite at end of turn, drew a card, put the Cryptic in my yard and saw the Cruel Ultimatum… Oh yeah, that’s what I was planning to flashback with this Snapcaster Mage. Whoops again.

Of course, I should’ve just used the Cryptic in response to the Liliana activation, getting rid of the Liliana herself, then flashbacked Cruel on my turn, making him sacrifice the Shaman and leaving him with lands and an empty Batterskull that I already had an answer to in my hand. That seems a lot better. Thankfully for me, I did end up winning the game after Crueling again and drawing enough gas to take it from there. After that I could draw into the top eight.

I was the highest seed after the Swiss, which meant I could be on the play in all my draft matches, which I considered a huge advantage as I like to draft somewhat slower decks in Modern Masters, and this would prevent aggressive decks from just winning two games on the play.

Modern Masters is a super sweet draft format, and I’m very sad I don’t get to draft it very often, so I was excited to channel my inner-Greg Hatch and draft a four- or five-color green Tromp the Domains deck. My first pack was mostly used to pick up the best removal I saw and simply watch for signals. I got a Feudkiller’s Verdict fairly late, and also a very late Mulldrifter and Plumeveil. Getting Plumeveil into a mostly green deck was going to be a challenge, but if I ended up GU or GW, splashing the other color, I figured it would be fine.

I got relatively few green cards the first pack, so I decided to use my second pack to draft any and all green fixing I saw over just about everything. I picked up a Search for Tomorrow and a Kodama’s Reach and some Vivids, so that worked out. The third pack, I opened a Tromp the Domains, and filled out the rest of the deck. Here’s what I registered:

The deck was a little low on creatures, and I’m pretty sure I should’ve played the second Cenn’s Enlistment and second Plumeveil that I left in the sideboard. It isn’t the best deck I ever drafted, but it had a lot of removal, a lot of card draw, and high card quality overall. The mana worked just fine, wonky as it might look. I even cast Tidehollow Sculler on turn two every time I had him in my opener!

Sword of Light and Shadow almost blocked my path to the semis, and I did lose one game to it straight up, but I won the other two after I boarded in Terashi’s Grasp to deal with the Sword. We split the money for the top four, and you already know the rest. The money I won was used to give a poor shiny Tarmogoyf a new home in my cube, so it wouldn’t be lonely during the holidays, stuck in a case somewhere in the Netherlands. It sure feels like Christmas!

May all your lands be snow-covered the next few days!

Jay Lansdaal
iLansdaal on Twitter and MTGO

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