February 10, 2017

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Going for the Gold: Racing with RB Aggro – 20th at PT Aether Revolt

My journey to Pro Tour Aether Revolt actually started at Grand Prix Prague, which was a big enough experience that I will be dedicating my own article to it. Jamie Archdekin and I left Prague on Tuesday and wound up staying at the “Platinum Hotel”, the hotel that Wizards of the Coast allocates for all of their platinum players. For this Pro Tour we had a massive testing team, and shared most of our information over Facebook. For the purposes of the team series we split into two teams and one mascot. It went something like this:

almostfin teambasic

Team Almost Finnished:
Anssi Alkio
Lauri Pispa
Tuomas Tuominen
Matti Kuisma
Leo Lahonen
Samuel Tharmaratnam (me)

Team Basic:
Craig Chapman
Sam-Luca Rolph
Pip Griffiths
Jamie Archdekin
Mathew Stein
Pete Ward

Team Mascot: Neil Rigby

As I wrote about in my article prior to the Pro Tour, it was evident to every competitor that you had to be able to beat the Saheeli Rai combo that had warped the entire format over the past few weeks. Initially we tried to win the mirror, by changing the spells to ensure that you could protect yourself from the combo but also proactively brute force it down. By reviewing other archetypes, we noticed that highly synergistic decks and the fastest aggro decks also had a great shot at toppling the newest villain in Standard. Our top three decks ended up being:

  • Jeskai Saheeli Combo (tuned to beat mirror)
  • RB Aggro (hyper-aggressive)
  • RB Zombies (synergy with disruption)

We had a miscommunication where one of our teammates (Mathew Stein) gave us wrong information about a certain matchup that we didn’t have time to test since our last changes. Thankfully, we were able to do some final testing after submitting our initial list and in the eleventh hour audibled to the deck that we felt would break this Pro Tour, RB Aggro. The original deck version of this deck was designed by Jonas Friberg, so I wanted to thank him for providing it to our team 🙂

RB Aggro

Lands: (23)
Foreboding Ruins
10 Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

Creatures: (22)
Bomat Courier
Forerunner of Slaughter
Inventor’s Apprentice
Pia Nalaar
Scrapheap Scrounger
Weldfast Engineer

Planeswalkers: (2)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Vehicles: (4)
Heart of Kiran

Spells: (9)
Incendiary Flow
Shock
Unlicensed Disintegration

Sideboard: (15)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Collective Brutality
Fatal Push
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Key to the City
Transgress the Mind

This deck aims to go below the control/combo decks of the format by playing high power creatures for very low cost, usually resulting in quick games that end by turn 4 or 5. The mana in the deck is very simple which makes it less prone to stumbling unlike a deck like Mardu Vehicles. GB Midrange was the deck’s “worst” matchup but we expected them to gun against the Copy Cat combo deck like everyone else, so it would be much easier to win game 1 than normal. Here is how my tournament went:

Day One:

Draft:

Based on my learnings from GP Prague and the multitude of drafts that I participated in leading up to this event, I knew that the Jund colours were best in this format. In addition, this was a very unique draft format in that you could typically play fewer than 16 lands. I made it my mission to try and start off every draft in red, if possible, since it was the strongest colour.

I started off the draft with an Aether Chaser, followed by a second copy and a Shock. Red was so open that in my 6th pick, I had the option between Release the Gremlins and Thopter Arrest. I am so disgusted by white’s low power level in this format that it wasn’t even close. I was able to lap an Outland Boar and this made me really happy going into pack 2. In pack 2, I opened an Implement of Ferocity and while I don’t think I would take it over mythic rares like the coverage stated in Prague, it was the best card in the pack. Some more solid red and green cards put me solidly into this combination and set me up for a big payoff in the Kaladesh pack. Unfortunately, that payoff never came. The player on the right of me ended up being in green but I got really hooked up in red with a 5th pick Harnessed Lightning and 6th pick Welding Sparks. Here is the deck below:

draft1

My first round involved me playing the player on my right who was solidly in green. I had a really awkward draw which included my copy of Monstrous Onslaught. However, all of his creatures were bigger than mine and he eventually made one large monster and used his Monstrous Onslaught to clear my board. Game 2 and 3 I was able to tempo him out with multiple Precise Strikes. I even brought my 3rd copy in from the sideboard to replace the Monstrous Onslaught which really highlights the importance of side-boarding in limited as it is typically a great card. I ended the game by using Aethertorch Renegade to do 6 damage to his face along with a Shock to deliver the final blow.

In the second round, I ended up getting some really awkward draws that prevented me from getting on the board until super late. This combined with my opponent playing multiple Improvise creatures very early lead to a quick loss. My third round was the same but in opposite fashion, poor Niels Noorlander got blown out by a Release the Gremlins for 2 and then didn’t hit his second colour in game two. 2-1 in my first pod, not something I was happy with considering my deck, but at the Pro Tour this would be a record you would be happy with before sitting down at your pod.

Standard:

The standard rounds were blurred together since I only played 10-15 minutes per round which is a huge advantage from playing an aggro deck. This is the first time I have played an aggro deck at a Pro Tour since 2014, and the last time it resulted in my only non-Day 2 in 10 starts. I handily won 2-0 against Makihito Mihara in the round 5 feature match area (not covered) against his Mardu Vehicles Deck. I would then go on to beat Alex Hayne (Mardu Vehicles), Kayure Patel (GB Delirium) to start 6-1 at the Pro Tour. I played an incredible match against Tim Wu (GW Tokens) in round 8 where I easily lost game one to mana screw, bluffed and grinded in multiple slots to overcome 2 flipped Avacyns, 2 Fumigate and multiple planeswalkers to edge out a really close game 2. Tim played 3 copies of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in game three but never drew a green source and ended the game with 4 Lambholt Pacifists in his hand. This put me at 7-1 and the best record I have ever had at a Pro Tour. I went to bed excited since this finally seemed like my tournament to win.

Day Two:

Draft:

In the morning, I nervously got to my pod and it was stacked with a lot of talent. I had Martin Juza passing to me and knew from earlier that he preferred bigger creature decks typically using black so I made a point to try and avoid that if possible. Luckily, it felt like everything went right in this draft. I opened a Quicksmith Rebel in pack one, passing an Aether Chaser. I followed it up with 6 other red cards and two green creatures putting me solidly in red with a slight green splash. In pack two, I opened the Aethertide Whale and picked it over another Aether Chaser. I felt like I could abandon green at this point for blue since the Whale was that strong. I had cut red off very hard in pack one and reaped the benefits by receiving a 7th pick Freejam Regent. In pack three, I opened a Key to the City which works well with creatures but also with Improvise and Quicksmith Rebel, shock and draw anyone? I rounded out the pack by being short three real playables for my deck. Doing a quick cursory glance, I realized that I could splash 2 Appetite for the Unnatural, since there were a lot of artifacts that were being passed around and when colours are shallow more artifacts tend to be played. I rounded it off with a Metalspinner’s Puzzleknot to help with Improvise/Affinity and to help draw my bombs.

draft2

I played Ken Yukuhiro in my first round who I thought had the best deck in our pod. He was playing R/W aggro, and once I stabilized through 2 Renegade Wheelsmith and what felt like 7 two drops, he cast a Fumigate. What!?!?!? It’s a good thing that my deck had a lot of power because I was able to overpower him through all of this. I replaced one of my Appetites for a Negate for game 2 and was able to win through a fast start of turn 2 Audacious Infiltrator and turn 3 Renegade Freighter. The Quicksmith Rebel and Key to the City combination showed up for game two. My next two rounds would not be as fortunate as I would get mana screwed in multiple games against Daniel Grafensteiner and Donald Smith who played decks that I could only describe as very subpar. Needless to say, I was very frustrated to lose both of these rounds. This put me at 9-3 headed into the final five founds. Maybe my standard deck could hold some ground for me.

Standard:

My first round paired me against Travis Woo, who kept a 3 island with two copies of the copycat combo hand against me and just rolled over when he didn’t hit his lands. To be fair I had an Unlicensed Disintegration to disrupt him if he had been able to go for it. Game two, he told me that he had mis-sideboarded and my Transgress the Mind kept him off balance long enough to kill him.

My next round was another match against Mardu Vehicles and I had a very interesting first game. I had a Shock in my hand and my opponent was at 11 life facing down a Heart of Kiran, Weldfast Engineer and a Bomat Courier with 3 cards under it. My opponent had lethal against me if he didn’t block, so I crewed the Heart of Kiran (in my mainphase of course) and attacked with it and the Bomat Courier. My opponent blocked my Bomat Courier with his Toolcraft Exemplar after the fourth card was placed below it.

I had four lands on the field and since I was putting my opponent at an effective five, I debated about whether or not I could just shock my opponent and attempt to draw one of four Incendiary Flows. I thought about this for a while before binning my Bomat Courier and playing my Pia Nalaar with one Mountain up. This ensured that I had lethal against my opponent as long as he didn’t draw a removal spell or a flier next turn that I could kill with shock. I didn’t put my opponent on a removal spell and he had one card in hand. Unfortunately, his last card was Pia Nalaar and he drew a land to make Pia, crew his Cultivator’s Caravan and sac his tapped Thopter token with his last mana to ensure that my Pia couldn’t block so that a Shock would not save me from lethal. Of course, this lead to me losing the game. After scooping, I checked the 4 cards below Bomat Courier and none of them was an Incendiary Flow. I ended up winning the next two games, however.

My round 14 match against the eventual winner (Lucas) was covered on camera here so I won’t repeat it, but it was very frustrating to lose in the way that I did. I emotionally checked out after taking a mulligan to five in game 2 and my opponent drawing the specific set of cards to beat me while I sat there with a bunch of removal in my hand. I would rally back by beating a GB aggro player in Round 15 before repeating the mishaps of Round 14 against Ivan Floch in the final round. This put me at 11-5 that awarded me a 20th place finish, $3000 USD and 10 pro points locking me for Silver! This of course is a great result that anyone would accept before the Pro Tour but definitely a tough pill to swallow after starting off 7-1 or even 10-3.

My thoughts going forward:

In regards to the maindeck, Pia Nalaar was the card that I wanted to cast on my turn 3 every game. Even though it was legendary I wish that I had the full 4 copies as it always was killed on sight and was a huge win condition by itself. The fourth copy of Forerunner of Slaughter really helps put the aggressive draws, especially when you combine the haste factor. Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet were terrible for me all weekend as control was pretty much not present at the Pro Tour unless it was in the form of the Copy Cat combo. Finally, I wish that I had the fourth copy of Unlicensed Disintegration which is our functional analog to a landfalled Searing Blaze.

For the sideboard, Fatal Push and Transgress the Mind were all stars and I would not move forward without 4 copies of each. With the format being a lot about GB and Mardu Vehicles I would want some copies of Destructive Tampering and Release the Gremlins in my sideboard as well. If you are looking to play RB Aggro at GP Pittsburgh this weekend, here are the changes that I would make to the list, taking into account all of the learnings above:

Updated RB Aggro

Land: (23)
Foreboding Ruins
10 Mountain
Smoldering Marsh
Swamp

Creatures: (23)
Bomat Courier
Forerunner of Slaughter
Inventor’s Apprentice
Pia Nalaar
Scrapheap Scrounger
Weldfast Engineer

Vehicles: (4)
Heart of Kiran

Spells: (10)
Incendiary Flow
Shock
Unlicensed Disintegration

Sideboard: (15)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Collective Brutality
Destructive Tampering
Fatal Push
Incendiary Flow
Release the Gremlins
Transgress the Mind

As always, best of luck in your events and I’ll see you next week!

Sammy T