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April 21, 2015

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Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir Report

Hi everybody!

While I normally write for another website, today I get to entertain the readers of WizardTower.com. Why? Well, I just so happened to win one of the last real PTQs last season, so I was qualified for the Pro Tour in Brussels. This didn’t immediately mean I could jump on the team that was generously sponsored by WizardTower.com, but thanks to some lobbying from captain Canada himself (Kar Yung Tom), I was allowed to work with some more experienced Pro Tour players, like Pascal Maynard, Dan Lanthier and Paul Dean, and with up and coming superstar Philippe Asselin – who finished 10-6 at his first Pro Tour, despite conceding the last round to Tyler Blum (why? That’s his story to tell). A great finish, I would say. For a large part of the weekend, we thought I would have the best finish, after going 6-2 on day one, while going a perfect 5-0 in constructed. I crashed slightly on day two though, going 1-2 in draft again, and Philippe passed me in the standings.

My deck though, was great – I felt like I should’ve gone 8-1 in Standard easily, but two slight misplays got maximally punished on day two (hey, it is the Pro Tour…), and I finished only 7-3 in Standard. The deck? This one:

Bant Heroic by Jay Lansdaal

Creatures: (16)
Favored Hoplite
Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
Hero Of Iroas
Seeker of the Way
Monastery Mentor

Spells: (23)
Ajani’s Presence
Defiant Strike
Gods Willing
Dromoka’s Command
Ordeal of Heliod
Ordeal of Thassa
Treasure Cruise

Lands: (21)
Forest
Plains
Island
Flooded Strand
Mana Confluence
Temple of Enlightenment
Temple of Mystery
Temple of Plenty
Windswept Heath

Sideboard: (15)
Encase in Ice
Treasure Cruise
Stubborn Denial
Disdainful Stroke
Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
Aqueous Form
Ordeal of Heliod
Island

This deck is 74/75 cards the deck that Tom Ross posted a full day before the Pro Tour, and all our testing had led us to the conclusion that the field would be filled with midrange decks, which this deck looked fantastic against. Green midrange decks often have little removal, and if they do have it, like Abzan does, it often costs three or doesn’t kill a big creature (Bile Blight, Dromoka’s Command). Red decks have a similar problem, in that they have a limited amount of Burn spells that work well against our creatures.

We started testing it because of our idea that it was well positioned, and because Dromoka’s Command was one of the best cards in the format, and this deck seemed to use it the best. The deck was really solid to good, but we only had a small sample size to go on, and we had no idea what to do with the sideboard. Still, we were impressed, even so much that Pascal at some point proclaimed “if Tom Ross posts a sideboard guide, I’ll play this deck”.

Lo and behold, 11 am EST, Tom Ross posts an article with an exhaustive sideboard guide. The next morning, I registered the deck to play it in my first Pro Tour. Let’s break it down to see what makes it tick.

Creatures:

We have some usual suspects in Favored Hoplite and Hero of Iroas, which every white Heroic deck plays and should play. Favored Hoplite is the best one drop because it grows quickly, and its “prevent all damage” clause is very relevant, something that even multiple opponents at the Pro Tour underestimated. You cannot let the trigger resolve as a red player just because you’d still deal enough damage to kill it with your Stoke the Flames: that does not work. Trying to trade with it after a trigger is a similarly bad idea. The damage prevention clause is also great with Dromoka’s Command, as you can fight and attack into remaining blockers without worrying that the damage on it from fighting will kill it, because there won’t be any damage on it.

Hero of Iroas works great with the Ordeals, but also with the Encase in Ice out of the sideboard. Keeping up one blue mana can really be anything now – a counter for your noncreature spell, a trick, or even a removal spell. With Triton Tactics also being in the format (although not in this deck, your opponent doesn’t know that), keeping any kind of mana open with this deck is a nightmare for your opponent.

To supplement the two best heroes, we have Lagonna-Band Trailblazer. The Trailblazer has two big plusses: it has 4 toughness, making it naturally resistant against Bile Blight, Lightning Strike and Wild Slash, and it costs only one. Battlewise Hoplite, another mainstay in a lot of Heroic decks, is really hard to cast with protection up, and is generally “just a big dude”, which you have enough of. I don’t think it’s feasible to play it in a three color Heroic deck and expect your mana to be fine. The Trailblazer is also a fine blocker, but that comes at the cost of being a fairly poor attacker at times. Against more controlling decks, you don’t want to spend too many cards on growing your creatures, because any removal spell that you can’t stop then becomes card advantage for your opponent. You want to avoid that, but attacking for 0 also isn’t great. It often comes out against decks where that is the case.

Seeker of the Way and Monastery Mentor round out the creatures, and these two Prowess guys give the deck a whole different dimension. While Heroic creatures are egotistical and only profit from spells themselves, these guys appreciate any spell being played, no matter who it targets. This lets you go wide in some games, which is great against single removal spells or big blockers. It also lets you “combo kill” when you Treasure Cruise into a bunch of spells with a couple of Prowess guys out.

Protection:

Seven protection spells is one more than Tom Ross had, but because we were flooding a lot, I figured I’d rather have another cheap spell, and Ajani’s Presence seemed like the most likely option, as you you have four of everything else, or there’s a good reason why you only want two, like Treasure Cruise and Ordeal of Heliod. God’s Willing also doubles as a “get through”-spell, which the deck is somewhat light on now, because Dromoka’s Command takes the slot of Aqueous Form. It does similar work, as fighting a blocker is often basically the same as getting through it, but against multiple small blockers a protection effect can be useful. This is the same reason why perhaps I shouldn’t have added the 3rd Ajani’s Presence, but added an Aqueous Form instead. If you expect a lot of green decks or Whisperwood Elementals, this might be better.

Pump:

Defiant Strike is like your Thought Scour: it looks unassuming, but it kicks your deck in high gear. It’s great with Mentor, it’s great at putting a first counter somewhere without investing a “real” spell, and it’s great at filling your graveyard for Treasure Cruise, all while replacing itself. The Ordeals are also a big part of the deck, and you often want to wait to make sure your creature has a counter on it already so you get the effect. You can also use a Dromoka’s Command to sacrifice your own Ordeal, and you’ll still get the effect. It won’t come up often, but it’s so sweet when it does.

Refuel:

You play a ton of cheap spells, but you are not necessarily the fastest deck every time. You are a resilient aggro deck, and Cruise helps refill the spells to get you to a critical mass to overpower your opponents. You can’t have too many unless a lot of cards are dying, which is why you have the four split over the main deck and the sideboard.

Swiss Army Knife:

Dromoka’s Command does it all. It slices, it dices, it blends, and if you squeeze it, honey comes out [TEDitor’s Note: Tried this..that was a waste of $12]. It swats Stokes away, it triggers Heroic twice (“put a counter on this guy, fight this other guy with your guy”) while eating blockers, and it answers Coursers, Outpost Sieges and Jeskai Ascendancys while being a combat trick. Really, this is your best card, and it is well worth the third color.

Sideboard:

3 Encase in Ice
2 Treasure Cruise
3 Stubborn Denial
2 Disdainful Stroke
1 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
2 Aqueous Form
1 Ordeal of Heliod
1 Island

An Island in the sideboard? Really?

Yes, the Island is in the sideboard is for when you board in extra blue cards, and for the UB(x) control matchup, where you board out Dromoka’s Command and have no more green cards for your Forest to be useful.

The Encase in Ices are for the RG matchups and the Abzan Aggro matchup, and you can board one or two in against Red Deck Wins and Jeskai on the draw as well.

Aqueous Form comes in against Green decks, where you need to get through blockers more than you need to protect your guys.

Treasure Cruise comes in in the grindy matchups, like UB, Abzan Control, or Jeskai Tokens.

Lagonna-Band Trailblazer and Ordeal of Heliod come in against Mono Red and super aggressive decks, and the counters are mostly for the UB matchup, where you want to board out at least the 4 Dromoka’s Command and the Forest.

Other options for the sideboard are cards like Glare of Heresy, or as Tom Ross himself mentioned later: Kiora, the Crashing Wave for the mirror. I don’t expect a lot of the mirror just yet, but if you do, feel free to shave an Encase in Ice or a Stubborn Denial.

I hope that you enjoyed this look at a constructed deck with a strong constructed record at the Pro Tour, and perhaps until next time!

Jay Lansdaal
@iLansdaal on Twitter