If you’re anything like me, then the week of Standard rotation is one of the most exciting times of the year. Old cards (and decks) go away, new cards come in, and it temporarily shifts the meta into a paradise for deck builders. For years I’ve been glued to my computer all day Saturday and Sunday excitingly watching the first Star City Open, eager to see what the new format is going to look like. For the first time ever, this exciting first tournament of the new season was right in my backyard. I was thrilled to finally be part of shaping the new metagame for myself.
Here’s the 75 that I registered:
Grixis Control by Scott McNamara, 10th at SCG Dallas/Fort Worth, Ixalan Standard
4 Aether Hub
4 Canyon Slough
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Spirebluff Canal
3 Torrential Gearhulk
3 The Scarab God
2 Essence Scatter
4 Glimmer of Genius
4 Harnessed Lightning
3 Magma Spray
2 Sweltering Suns
4 Whirler Virtuoso
1 Magma Spray
2 Battle at the Bridge
Before I get into the individual rounds, I’d like to offer up a few things about my testing for the event, and some thoughts about the deck in general. Going into the tournament, I knew I wanted to play a control deck—I know, I know—it’s not wise to shoehorn yourself into any one strategy. However, I believed the removal spells were efficient enough that I’d be able to find something competitive. The 75 I ended up registering is remarkably close to where I started on the day of the set’s release on Magic Online. The 5-0 decklist that got published under my Magic Online username, OafMcNamara is only 5-6 cards off from the deck I took to the tournament! This doesn’t mean I didn’t explore other options, though. For the sake of brevity, I can’t get into every deck I tried out, but perhaps in a future article I’ll go deeper.
Starting off, I want to say that I absolutely loved this deck. The removal is efficient, the card draw and counterspells are a blast to play with, and The Scarab God along with Torrential Gearhulk are the best closers a Standard control deck could reasonably ask for. The most common question I’ve been getting about the deck is the lack of notable black removal spells. Cards like Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt seem like a perfect fit for a control deck in this format, right? While that may be true, the mana simply is not good enough to cast them.
Thats not to say it’s impossible to build a Grixis deck that can cast them reliably, it’s just not this deck. The mana in Standard just isn’t good enough to play a full 3 color control deck. It seems much more productive to pick two colors, splashing the third. I chose to play red and blue, splashing black because I think red’s removal lined up better against the week one metagame—primarily because it’s cheaper.
Cards like Magma Spray, Abrade, Harnessed Lightning, and Sweltering Suns make it a little easier to win games against creature decks on the draw. On the other hand, a deck that only has black removal relies solely on Fatal Push to kill small creatures and survive on the draw. Cheap removal is the name of the game, even if they appear weaker on the surface.
Now, with that out of the way, lets get into the tournament itself.
Round 1 (0-0): Grixis Stuff
The first round of the open really summed up why I love the first week of a new Standard format. Players come in and sling all these sweet new decks that are completely unknown quantities. I love the feeling of playing against someone and having no idea what kind of cards are in their deck—it makes for exciting, unique games.
My opponents deck was an interesting one, including several cards with graveyard synergies such as Search for Azcanta and Champion of Wits. It also had some controlling elements with cards like Dynavolt Tower and a variety of counterspells. Despite my opponents innovation, The Scarab God and I won both games without too much opposition.
Round 2 (1-0): Red-Black Aggro
This was essentially a mono-red deck splashing for cards like Scrapheap Scrounger and Unlicensed Disintegration. These kinds of aggressive matches are where the cheap red removal shines, and things only get better for me after sideboard. Whirler Virtuoso is incredible here, and Battle at the Bridge is a nice way to get yourself out of burn range after you’ve stabilize the board. For those curious, here’s my sideboard strategy against red based aggro decks. I end up winning 2-1.
In: 2x Battle at the Bridge, 4x Whirler Virtuoso, 1x Magma Spray, 1x Abrade
Out (draw): 1x Torrential Gearhulk, 2x Disallow, 2x Glimmer of Genius, 3x Censor
Out (play): 1x Torrential Gearhulk, 2x Disallow, 2x Glimmer of Genius, 1x Sweltering Suns, 2x Censor
Round 3 (2-0): Grixis Control
My oppoent’s deck seemed to be heavier on black cards, playing several of the black removal cards our BR buddy from last round was playing. He also had some interesting main deck inclusions, like Jace, Cunning Castaway. This was a traditional control mirror, and the match played out as such. I take this round 2-0.
Round 4 (3-0): 4 Color Energy
This was one of the big dogs coming into the weekend, and my good matchup here is one of the big reasons I chose to play this deck. The Scarab God is absolutely ridiculous against them. If you ever play it onto a reasonable board, you’re almost certainly going to win. The big problem card for the matchup is Longtusk Cub. If they’re on the play with an Attune with Aether into Cub, it becomes very hard to win. Other than that specific sequence though, the matchup is very favorable. I win this round 2-0. Here’s how I sideboard in this matchup:
In: 1x Abrade, 2x Doomfall, 2x Negate
Out: 1x Censor, 3x Magma Spray, 1x Sweltering Suns
Round 5 (4-0): 4C Energy
More of the same here. Red removal kept them from early aggression, and our friend The Scarab God cleans things up quickly afterwards. Sideboard can be a bit tricky since they have counterspells, but because we aren’t playing expensive cards like Fumigate or Approach of the Second Sun, these counters aren’t as much of an issue. The victory is mine with another 2-0.
Round 6 (5-0): 4C Energy
Noticing a trend? This deck was everywhere at this tournament. It is worth noting that this particular opponent’s list was quite different, even including a main deck copy of Essence Scatter. He actually ended up finishing the tournament quite well himself at 12th place, so perhaps these changes are worth investigating. (Too soon?) This round was another 2-0 victory in my favor.
Round 7 (6-0): Mono Red
Once again, the efficient red removal—namely Magma Spray, really carried me in this match. Post-board the Whirler Virtuosos were incredibly annoying for my opponent to try to slog through. 2-0.
Round 8 (7-0): Jim Davis on U/W Approach
My first loss of the tournament came at the hands of Star City’s own Jim Davis playing a unique U/W Approach list. In testing, I found this matchup to be quite good. Four maindeck Disallow meant that resolving the second Approach was going to be very hard for my opponent. Most Approach lists play 4 copies of Supreme Will, and pass on Disallow, which makes me feel very advantaged.
However, a couple of Jim’s deck building choices really gave him an edge. For starters, Search for Azcanta was a beating, and got him so far ahead on cards. Additionally, he had a main deck Disallow, which really took me by surprise. Finally, he’s playing a total of six blue deserts, which serve as an alternative win condition if I manage to counter every Approach. I do believe things get better after sideboard, as I have the hand disruption and more counters, but unfortunately I kept what may have been a sketchy hand and got stuck on lands for a few turns which was enough to put me away. 0-2.
Before I move on to the next match, I do have one more comment to make about this round. I don’t play in a lot of large paper tournaments due to my location, and the fact that I’m a college student. Because of this, I havn’t really had the opportunity to play against known players such as Jim. While this may not be true for all “pro” or “semi pro” players, Jim was an absolute delight to play against. He was calm, friendly, helpful, and respectful the entire match. You would think that a player of his caliber might be cocky or cold when playing against an unknown like myself, but this was not the case at all. GG Jim!
Round 9 (7-1): Red Black Aggro
This was similar to the deck I played in round two, except my opponent was even heavier on black, going as far to play Duress in his sideboard. This does not feel like a good matchup for me. They have all the aggression of mono red combined with the disruption black offers. In game three I was able to stabilize the board at 5 life with my BFFF Scarab God, he had no cards in hand, and a lone Scrapheap Scrounger in play. Unfortunately, a topdecked Unlicensed Disintegration put the game away for my opponent.
It was a very fun and exiting round. Ending the day at 7-2 was bittersweet. If you had told me at the beginning of the day that I would finish 7-2, I would’ve been thrilled, but after starting 7-0 it stung to take two on the chin, one after another. I knew that I would likely have to go 5-1 or better the next day to have a shot at making the top 8.
Round 10 (7-2): 4C Energy
Game 1 was lost to a Bristling Hydra, and to be honest I was incredibly lucky to win the next two games. Game two involved having to cast Glimmer of Genius, hitting 2 Harnessed Lightning, and killing both an attacking Longtusk Cub and Glorybringer, both of which are lethal on their own. Sometimes you just get there I guess. This was a close one, but The Scarab God took us home. We squeeze by 2-1.
Round 11 (8-2): 4C Energy
This was a really tough one for more than one reason. I had to play Gabriel Joglar, a good friend and a great magic player who I frequently travel to tournaments with. I wish I could say that it was a good match, but unfortunately he got mana screwed in both games and was unable to develop a board. It’s a bittersweet 2-1 victory.
Round 12 (9-2): U/G Pummeler
I actually think this is a pretty tough matchup for us. Cards like Longtusk Cub, Bristling Hydra, counterspells, and Blossoming Defense gives decks like mine a fit. However, I had a great draw both games that were flush with counterspells that prevented him from resolving anything significant. That, combined with a turn five Scarab God both games made this a fairly easy 2-0 for me. (Pro tip: find someone who loves you as much as The Scarab God does when you sleeve it up.)
Round 13 (10-2): G/B Energy
This was my on-camera feature match, so you can check out the entire thing on Star City’s coverage page. I don’t love my matchup against his specific version of the deck—Greenbelt Rampager in particular is a beating. Game one was much closer than I thought it was going to be, and in game two I couldn’t believe that Gearhulk off the top. There were many points in the tournament where I got incredibly lucky though, so I can’t be upset about losing like that. Well played, Jacob! We lose the round 1-2.
Round 14 (10-3): U/W Approach
This time around the matchup went more like I thought it should. The hard counters in game 1 gave me a huge advantage, and the hand disruption post-board just compounded this advantage.
Round 15 (11-3): Sultai Energy
The 15th and final round (unfortunately…) I played against a deck that was very remarkably close to what the Jessup brothers had brought to the tournament. Again, I got incredibly lucky to win these games like I did. Back to back top decks were frequent in this particular match. I was thrilled to win this one because this means I would finish 12-3, a record that was live for top 8.
Although going into day two I was almost positive that a 12-3 record would be good enough for a top 8 berth, that wasn’t the case this time around. Tie breakers put me and one other poor soul with a 12-3 record just outside of the top 8. This can be a frustrating experience to go through. Missing out on top 8 due to something that feels outside of your control can be a really rough way to end a weekend.
But, at the end of the day I am very happy with my result. I know that if I continue to have similar performances I will eventually break into the elimination rounds. Congratulations to everyone who made top 8; they are all fantastic players who really deserved to be there! Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions in the comments below, I look forward to continuing the discussion!