This past Saturday was my first one free in about a month. This entire month I’ve had an itch to play some serious Magic, but have been unable to scratch at it. Each weekend there was a Standard Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier (PPTQ) in my backyard, but I couldn’t make it to them. Well, I made it to the second one, but that was because it was my PPTQ. While it is a blast to judge at competitive rules enforcement level (Comp REL) events, it’s not the same as playing in them. I consider judging to be fantastic and extremely rewarding, but there’s nothing like getting out now and then to play with the intention of winning.
So for the first time in a long time I had a free weekend and a Comp REL itch to scratch. I started searching for a Modern event, because I was dying to play Lantern of Insight. Sadly, there were none. I didn’t have a semi-decent Standard deck either, but I had to scratch the Comp REL itch. I found two promising Standard events. Gamer’s Gauntlet in Clinton Township was having a Standard 1K Store Credit event, and Hollow Mountain in East Lansing was hosting a Standard PPTQ. I chose Gamer's Gauntlet, because I figured all the really hardcore guys were headed to the PPTQ at Hollow Mountain and I didn't think my lack of playing Standard for months would really aid me against the PPTQ grinders. Plus, I hadn't seen Cato (the owner at Gamer's Gauntlet) in a while.
With a tournament in mind I turned my attention to figuring out what deck to play. For that I asked some of my favorite Comp REL players. They unanimously agreed if I wanted to win then I should play Mardu Vehicles. I started looking into the Vehicles lists, and decided this was indeed a powerful deck, but I wasn't sold on it. My buddy Tyler Echevarria suggested BG Energy Aggro and linked me to Pascal Maynard's article on ChannelFireball.com. I had been looking for an excuse to play Glint-Sleeve Siphoner since the card was first spoiled, and this was my chance. The deck looked like a ton of fun, and Pascal's article did a great job explaining the deck's potential. I tweaked the deck list slightly, borrowed a few sets of cards (thanks Jake, Mike, and James), tired to figure out how to sideboard (thanks again Tyler), and then did a very small amount of testing (thank you Sherman).
Here's the list:
BG Energy Aggro
Saturday morning I loaded up my essential gear (no point carrying around your Commander decks if you're not going to play Commander) and headed north. I arrived a little after noon, registered, and made sure the staff knew if the attendance was larger than expected, then I was able and willing to help judge. I really wanted to play of course, but I wanted L2 Alex Smith to get to play for once. Alex is always helping out at events he originally planned on playing in. I felt like he earned the opportunity to play this week, even if 75 people showed up out of nowhere. (He ended up not making it out, and instead went car shopping #AdultingIsLame.)
I had about 15 or so minutes before the event was going to fire, so I decided to relax in the back areas and check out the competition. I was right--I dodged the PPTQ grinders. Instead I drew the Silver Level pros from Ann Arbor; Max McVety, Kyle Boggemes, and Brian DeMars... No one said this was going to be easy. Don't ever get down on yourself when facing off against someone you know is skilled in Magic. Remember to have fun and focus. Some of my favorite Magic is against players I know are probably going to stomp me. These are great learning opportunities. After your match ask questions. There's probably no one better to learn from than the big tournament grinders.
Round one parings go up, and I draw 4C Saheeli Combo. I should have recorded all of my opponent's names, because they all turned out to be very enjoyable people, but you know what they say about HINDSIGHT. The little bit of research I had done in my preparations for this event told me this was a grindy matchup, but reading never quite prepares you for this kind of grindfest. Game one felt like it took 40 minutes. I started on the play and I was able to keep him off of the combo a couple times thanks to Ballistas and Grasp of Darkness. Oath of Chandra is a pain in the butt though. Snake or no Snake, Oath of Chandra always feels back breaking. You'd think it's not that big of a deal, but then they start flickering the Oath with Felidar Guardians. Eventually I was able to grind out the game with two Snakes and a Ballista.
Sideboarding verses 4C Saheeli Combo
If games are going to grind out then Bestiary is your best friend. The card is insanely good. Pair it with a Greenbelt and a Siphoner or Cub for all kinds of value. I swapped out Pushes for more Cat answers in another Grasp and Transgresses. Pascal Maynard talks about how good Transgress is in this matchup over Harsh Scrutiny, and I fully agree. There is a lot more to hit with Transgress that you care about in the Saheeli deck other than just Felidar Guardian. Scrounger is also just a stupidly powerful creature that eats removal and keeps coming back. Hydra also eats removal, but tends to stick around longer than Scrounger. I'm still not sold on Gonti. He's good, but I didn't cast him most of the hands I drew him, because I didn't need an okay four drop creature when I had better two drop creatures. Playing Gonti and hoping to hit a useful spell from your opponent's deck is not the same as just having what you need. Casting Gonti is like playing a slot machine. Sometimes you'll get lucky, sometimes you'll get a little something to keep you playing, but odds are you're just spinning your wheels because you've got nothing better to do. I'm going to keep testing Gonti, but right now I feel like I'm better off cutting him for another Hydra or Scrounger.
Not sure I'm taking out the right stuff. Rishkar wasn't very impressive all day, but I just kept thinking to myself “He's my only out if I get stuck on three lands,” so I would always leave at least one in. The game is going to go long (hopefully), so cutting an Attune or two seems fine. Gearhulk (the true Hulk) can just end games, so a couple of those left in seemed fair. I cut some Cubs and a Greenbelt because they get chump-blocked by more thopters than any of my other creatures. Sideboarding is probably the hardest thing to learn to do well. In the comments down below please let me know what you would have done differently for each matchup.
Game two I'm on the draw. My opening hand had both of my colors, a Siphoner, a Blossoming Defense, and two Transgresses. My first two draws were a land and the last Transgress. My turn two I ripped a Saheeli out of his hand which also had a Harness Lightning, a couple lands, a Tamiyo, Field Researcher, and a Confiscation Coup. He top decked a Saheeli and played it. No big deal. Just need to dodge a top decked Cat. I kept the pressure on, while tearing apart his hand while replenishing mine thanks to Siphoner. I didn't draw any removal, but that didn't matter now. One more attack and he was done for. Except he drew a Cat before we got to that attack step. Oh well.
Game three on the play. The aggro plan was strong right out of the gates. Cub into Snake into Harvester (which he stole with Coup), into Ballista. He can't keep up with the Cub, so he starts attacking me with my Harvester to gain some life, but that left him open for me to keep cracking back on my turn. Eventually he top decked a Saheeli while there was already a Cat on the field. I've got a Ballista on the field with three counters on it, so he knows I've got him covered until he deals with the Ballista. He decides he needs to keep the game going and the best way to do that is to gain some life and draw some cards. He casts the Saheeli and minuses it targeting a Cloudblazer. He started to draw his cards, but I quickly paused him and shot the Cloudblazer for two with my Ballista. I attacked for lethal the next turn. The guy was super nice. We chatted a bit during and after our match about the state of Standard and Magic in general. We both agreed the Saheeli deck was good, but that there was probably a better version of the deck still waiting to be brewed.
Round two paired me against UR Dynavolt Tower. I started out on the play, and wasn't sure what I was facing. It very well could have been a Thing in the Ice deck, but I didn't see any of those, nor did I see any Towers. What I did see was a removal or counter spell for each of my creatures six turns in a row. Then a Torrential Gearhulk decided it wanted to knock me out. I survived for one extra turn, because he attacked with a Wandering Fumarole while I had mana for a Fatal Push. From there, I drew a land... Thanks, extra turn.
Sideboarding verses Tower Control
Ballistas are too slow and eat up a lot of mana, but ultimately die young when facing off against Tower. Rishkar is probably great on turn three, but other than that he's meh here. There's not much to remove, so the removal comes out. I cut one Attune, because I'm pretty sure I'm going to get enough draws to set up my mana, and I'd rather not draw it late game.
Game two on the play. Holy crap this sideboard shines so bright in this matchup. Turn two Cub into turn three Snake and Blossoming Defense which eats a removal spell. His turn three he tapped out to kill both of my creatures, which I followed with a turn four Bestiary! This card is disgustingly good. Greenbelt drew me seven cards on its own that game. I grinded him into dust.
Game three on the draw. I had the second best start again. Turn two Cub into turn three snake. This time he didn't have any removal spells. I'm not sure what he was holding, but I'd wager a counter spell or two, a couple blue Gearhulks, and a couple Glimmers. He also got stuck on four land. After he tapped out to Glimmer in search of land I swung for lethal thanks to a my Gearhulk. Nice guy. Was polite, played well, and even joked around with me a little bit. Oh, thanks again Sherman. I would never have beat Tower if not for testing against it with you.
Round three parings are going up, and I'm pretty sure both McVety and the Bog-man are still undefeated. I hoped I could dodge them for at least one more round as I walked up to the pairing sheet. No such luck. My opponent to be was the Clue Master himself Max McVety. I wasn't sure, but I figured him and the rest of the Ann Arbor guys would be on Mardu Vehicles. Spoilers... They were.
Game one I'm on the draw... Ouch. Mardu Vehicles on the play has so many ways to curve out into a few different flavors of the same lethal board state, and Max hit his curve. I was dead a couple times over.
Sideboarding verses Mardu Vehicles
On the play
Something you need to know about Mardu Vehicles after sideboarding is that they turn into a more controlling version of the deck when they are on the draw. So, with that in mind I bring the Bestiaries in just in case the game starts to go long. I can't beat multiple Gideons if I can't outpace or out draw my opponent. Gonti hopefully steals one of their big threats like a planeswalker or an Archangel Avacyn. Hydra and Scrounger fill the same role they always do--They are powerful creatures that are either hard to deal with or keep coming back. This means they are great against control strategies. Natural Obsolescence is one of the best ways to deal with Heart of Kiran, but there's always Grasp of Darkness which also deals with Avacyn.
I'm pretty sure I'm not taking out the right stuff in this matchup. The Siphoners have to go unfortunately, because you just can't afford to be paying life against vehicles. Murder is kind of expensive as far as removal spells go for the low costed creatures of Mardu Vehicles. Rishkar is only great on curve, but when he's there it's the best thing you can be doing. I don't feel like Cubs put on enough pressure and just sit there if your opponent sticks a Gideon or a Heart. It is also probably a mistake to take out my Pushes, because I want to be able to keep swinging into my opponent while keeping him off of creatures as much as possible, but I didn't want to cut the Gearhulks since they just tend to win on the spot.
Game two on the play. I misplayed at one point early on by blocking his Veteran Motorist with my Cub and then activating its ability making it a 3/3. They traded either way, and turns out I needed that energy to cast my second Greenbelt of the game. I don't think it really mattered in the end, because he was able to stick more creatures than I was, and I didn't have any answers for Avacyn. Another nice guy. I enjoyed chatting with him. He even pointed out my misplay so I wouldn't make the same mistake in the future. It can be tricky talking to your opponent about where they misplayed, but if you go in while being careful not to come off as arrogant, it usually goes over very well. The Clue Master is top tier in my book.
I have a dozen or so minutes before the next round, so I decide to get something to snack on. When going to big events remember to eat and stay hydrated. I normally pack an extra water and a couple granola bars, but Gamer’s Gauntlet has a great selection of drinks and snacks.
I was feeling refreshed as the round four pairing were being posted. I was pretty sure that out of the Ann Arbor crew, DeMars was the only one with a loss. I wouldn’t have minded playing him. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the opportunity. DeMars can be a tough cookie, but he’s usually pretty chill between rounds. I digress, pairings for round four had me facing off against 4C Saheeli. Okay, I’ve done this one before.
Game one I’m on the draw, and I kept a bad hand with two lands, a Grasp, a Rishkar, and a Gearhulk. I stumbled on land for a turn, and he shot everything I threw at him. He opened with an Oath of Nissa revealing a Guardian, then cast Saheeli on turn three. I fell way behind because I had to keep mana open to Grasp the Cat if he went for the combo. I figured if he did go for the combo, then he probably had another Cat in hand. Luckily that wasn’t the case. By the time I was able to cast creatures he had drawn plenty of answers. Eventually he did force me to Grasp the Cat, but after my next turn (where I tapped out) he showed me another Cat he had scryed and kept on top.
Sideboard was the same as round one. Game two I took the play, and rushed my opponent down quickly while also being able to respect the combo. Ballista is a fine card indeed. He tried to stall with thopters, but Snake plus Ballista kept the beats coming.
I was on the draw game three. Not that it mattered, because my opponent met the same fate we all have encountered; getting mana screwed. He missed on his turn one Oath of Nissa, and then missed finding a land on this turn two Oath of Nissa. It was over before he saw his third land. Mana variance sucks, but it’s part of the game and we all encounter it from time to time. He was a really respectable dude. Wasn’t salty towards me at all, and didn’t project his frustrations about getting mana screwed either.
Okay so I was 3-1 in a five round event with a cut to top 8. There was a slim chance I could intentionally draw (ID) into the top 8. I personally dislike IDs, but tournament players are 100% correct in thinking it is the right choice if your goal is to be locked for prize. I didn’t get the opportunity to draw though as I was paired down for the final round.
My opponent was James Hooper. This dude was a blast. Funny guy that knew how to play and also how to have a good time. Hooper was playing Mardu Vehicles, but I think his list was different from the straight aggro list. His deck felt more like a control version of Vehicles right off the bat. Game one I got to go first. Too bad his aggro was just a step faster than mine. Turns out Chandra, Torch of Defiance is pretty good at killing creatures and burning opponents out.
I went with the same sideboard plan I used in round three, but I was not feeling confident. Losing game one after winning the dice roll against Vehicles did not leave me hopeful if we made it to game three. We had a pretty intense match. All three games were close and exciting. Game two I took the play again, and was able to be aggressive while keeping his board pretty clear. He was able to slow me down in the midgame, but Gonti proved himself useful by ripping a Chandra out of Hooper’s deck. Turns out Chandra is still good at killing creatures and burning out your opponents out.
Game three was another nail biter. I had control of the board, but got greedy with my Ballista, and ended up losing it sooner than I should have. I saw victory at the end of the tunnel, but it turned out to be more greed as I swung in to put Hooper in critical condition. He made a spectacular play by bringing a Scrounger back from the graveyard and crewing his Heart to block one of my creatures. He finished me off with the Heart soon after that. Hooper was a blast to play against.
Standing were posted, and my opponent match win (OMW) percentage was just barely good enough for eighth place. I would have taken a photo of how close it was, but the guy in ninth was right there and I didn’t want to be rude. Also in the top eight was my round 1 opponent, the Clue Master, the Bog-man, DeMars, and Hooper. I didn’t check to see who I was going to be playing, because I was still a little bewildered I made top eight my first time out with this deck. Reality set in as I sat down across from the Bog-man, Kyle Boggemes himself.
Kyle is a great player. He’s very through in his consideration of the each move. There was a point in one of our games that he 100% had me dead, but he weighed every possibility before assuming he’d won. The Bog-man recently made it to the top four of a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier with Mardu Vehicles. I remembered reading his article, and told myself not to play into Fumigate. If only I had read his author’s notes.
Kyle was the higher seed in our match so he chose to play first. Although he only ever played two lands he was still super close to killing me. I think a third land at any point in that game meant I was just dead. Freaking Vehicles is dangerous man.
Sideboarding verses Mardu Vehicles
On the draw
Yup, there’s a different sideboard plan against Mardu Vehicles when you’re going to be on the draw. This is due to the fact that instead of siding into a more controlling version of the deck they go more aggressive. They tend to keep their curve low and bring in a few removal spells. Natural Obsolescence is an obvious must. Push and Grasp help to keep the pressure off. Gonti spins the slots and hopes to steal a removal spell or a Heart. Hydras are tough for them to deal with so I brought them in hoping that I could pair one with a Gearhulk to finish the game unexpectedly.
Murder is too expensive and doesn’t kill Gideon, my precious Siphoners help my opponent more than they help me, and Rishkar is really bad if he comes in on his own.
Game two on the draw. This time I was the once stuck on lands. I think I had a pretty good shot at winning if I had drawn my fourth land, but that’s variance for you and now we were even.
I felt pretty good, and thought I could actually win. I changed up my sideboard and went on the play. This time we both got to play Magic and it turned out to be a really good game. We were both close to killing each other. Everything was riding on who would make the first mistake. Spoiler… It was me. I don’t know why I didn’t expect Archangel Avacyn, but I swung right into her. That hurt, but it wasn’t back breaking. Even the Fairgrounds Warden that ate my Greenbelt wasn’t too bad. However, my soul caved inward when I decided I wanted my elephant back and Pushed the Warden into an early grave… see, Avacyn didn’t like that. She covered herself in the Warden’s blood and shredded my last three life points. Man I miss Displacer.
In the end it was a great game. BG Energy has a tough time trying to deal with all the threats in the Vehicles deck, but it’s not unwinnable. Standard is a blast right now in my opinion. Every turn matters. Players like the Bog-man excel at these types of Standards, because they are great at seeing every line. I’d like to see a couple more decks be viable in the format, but I’m glad Wizards didn’t ban anything since Amonkhet is right around the corner. Oh, Boggemes was also a cool dude. I enjoyed playing him even if I did make a fool of myself. He said he was considering putting one Avacyn in the main deck, and I think that’s a pretty good idea. She’s basically another Heart… with Flash, no big deal. I also have to say I love the Fairgrounds Wardens in the sideboard over the Fumigates. If only I had read the author’s notes.
I had a blast playing this deck. I highly recommend it. I’m considering cutting the Rishkars for some main deck Scroungers. There were a bunch of games where I just needed to put on a little more pressure, but couldn’t keep up with the removal spells being throw at my little guys.
Shout out to Cato at Gamer’s Gauntlet. Thanks for hosting great events man.
Get out and play!