Breaking Serve – A GGCS Standard Division Report *Top 4*

Decks are built for tournaments. Whether or not they are ‘good’ in a wider metagame or can persist past the event is immaterial. This fact cannot be stressed enough, I feel.

The deck which I battled most of the spring season of the Gamers Gauntlet Championship Series with was good for a balanced or wide metagame one could find at a GPT, PTQ, or large cash event. Brewed up for Pro Tour: Dublin by Adam Jansen and Ronnie Serio, and refined by Adrian Sullivan: Rw beatdown.


The design is what Adrian Sullivan calls “schizophrenic aggro”: 8 one drops, 4 five drops, and stuff in the middle. {EDITOR’S NOTE: As another example, think of the B/R “aggro” decks of 2013 with a similar curve of Rakdos Cackler into Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite} Effectively these builds are Big Red with much of the low drop removal converted into efficient aggro creatures. This split allows a player to claim the aggro space in games while having threat resiliency deep into the match. Additionally, a bait and switch game can play out over the two to three games where the opposition reads you as aggro (winning without using the Dragon, or not playing him onto a losing board state) and you board into true Big Red. Given my experience and comfort with the 75, I began tinkering with it for the Championship finals.

My approach to the GGCS was to take it slow and steady, aiming mainly to have fun. I played the aforementioned Rw list, along with the occasional two week stint with Black devotion or UW control, for the Thursday Standard and FNM each week. In that run, I top 8’d three times and usually posted a winning record for the day. Not fantastically good by any means, but a steady 55% match win rate does validate my claim to consistency and competitiveness.

By the end of the season, I put enough points on the board to tie for 11th with Kevin Hicks, a strong local player. His tie breaker being better than mine sent me to 12th, but a scheduling heart-breaker caused the 8th seed of us Top 16 players to drop out of the finals. This situation elevated me to the 11th seed, as the invitations dropped down to the 17th ranked player to have the 16 seed, shifting the lower bracket up.

Given the reality of seeding, brackets, and the use of modified play-draw rule, I would be on the draw for much of the tournament. I began warping the Rw beatdown deck around expected matchups. The lower seed upshift had flipped me to the other side of the bracket, where my belief in the utility of the deck’s transformational board faded away. I had already started down the path of metagaming my deck for the other 15 players in the championship, so I decided to go further down this path. I switched Sullivans for my red-spiration.

The third P of the red player’s P trinity, after Price and Paskins, is New Jersey’s own Patrick Sullivan. He was offering the latest Journey into Nyx refinement of his wheelhouse: knucklehead aggro.

12 knuckleheads at one, 12 knuckleheads at two, and four unkillable knuckleheads at three. Made for getting under the opposition and pushing until they topple.

I took this 75 and bent it to the Championship. It is a 16 player single-elimination event, so I only need to win 4 matches, making higher variance decks like this OK. Each match is best of five games, so while seeding matters it is not meant to be determining. If I could break serve, win on the draw in game 1 or 2, I’d be able to ride out the rest of the match.

Reviewing the other 15 players I counted 3 control decks, 1 Mono U, 2 GRx Monsters, 2 variable Midrange decks, 1 wild card, and 6 Bx. My path forward was through one Monsters deck and a 2 or 3 of Bx decks. Given the how unlikely it would be for me to have to tear down a UWx control deck I took Sullivan’s list -1 Burning Earth, -1 Font of Ire, +2 Harness By Force (for any and all monsters and Desecration Demons) and decided to run it.


Round of 16 – Tre Lyons(6)

Tre was one of the players I had put on Monsters. He did not disappoint with a turn 2 Sylvan Caryatid. Sully’s list eschews Ash Zealot for this reason. I flood the zone to just force through damage. Removal spells work to stem the tide. A Rampager hits the board and blocks a Firedrinker in an alpha strike that puts Tre to two. A Searing Blood finishes the Rampager and the game.

Game 2, Tre mulligans to five in search for a hand with any land at all. His boost this game was an Elf. I Peak Eruption his Blood Crypt to turn off removal on turn 3. Turn 4 ends it.

Game 3 Tre has the hand to manage my board (especially Firefist Striker) and bring me to a standstill under a Polukranos. Harness by Force allows me to break serve one last time for the match.

Round of 8 – Boris Pan(3)

Wielding his trusty Orzhov control list Boris found that Mana Confluence plays the double-edged in game one. It fuels enough removal to take both of us to top decking, but the pinpricks of life loss add up and help me win out in the end.

Game two, Boris is stuck on 2-3 lands up to turn six. Good but slow removal like Banishing Light delay the inevitable fiery finish.

Game three, land drops work out for all involved. His removal is strained by my sequencing, allowing Firefist Strikers to do god’s work vs demons.


Round of 4 – Adam Barrientez(2)

Game one, I didn’t want to mull to five vs a Thoughtseize deck. I concede before I have to discard down to seven cards around turn four.

Game two, I take the wrong lesson from game one and keep the one land seven-carder. Despite five damage on turn two from a trusty Cackler and a frisky Rubblebelt Maaka, land two comes much too late.

Game three, I have cards and lands to cast them. They aren’t good enough, as I’m dispirited (think tilt, but not as bad) and make three key mistakes. First, sacrificing a Cackler to Demon with a Whip in play when I have a Skullcrack in hand. Second, Skullcracking them at eot after sacrifing my Cackler. Third, Hammering up a Golem not in response to a Demon trigger, but prior to.

Swept in; swept out.

Not awful in the larger scheme of it. Of the Top 4 players, two were from the bottom half of the standings. I was one of those number. Of the Top 4 players, I alone represented the lowest (fourth) quintile of standings.

The theorycraft that lead me to pick the deck I did arose from basic principles.

Magic games are fundamentally those of two competing advantages (assuming mulligans as a nonfactor): tempo advantage vs card advantage. [The metagame pillars split evenly to what advantage is favored with UWx and Bx control going for card advantage, while Blue Devotion and RGx Monsters go for tempo advantage.]

Most of the decks in the Championship will be interested in card advantage, but have the seeding to take on the tempo advantage. They will use this tempo advantage mainly to: deny it to their opponents, fix their mana with or without some card selection (Shockland or Temple), Firebolt themselves (occasionally with flashback) to deny their opponent one card (Thoughtseize), play an Elf.

I will have card advantage in the beginning. Given what the other decks are doing with their tempo advantage, I can either answer it (bolt the Bird or Pillage the land) or steal it back (Foundry Street Denizen, Burning Tree Emissary, Chandra’s Phoenix, Maaka, and the sideboard Harness by Force). My modifications to the Sullivan deck allowed me to force my way to a tempo advantage while starting from card advantage, aka to break serve.

I could do as Reid Duke did with his hexproof Boggles if I had the salt. I decided that I did have the salt, because decks are made for winning tournaments, not refashioning metagames.

Alexander Smith,

GGCS Semi-Finalist


Dan Cato- Lending me cards for the audible. Making my Mountains look spiffy. Being an aircraft carrier among hulls.

Malachi Reda- For casting 13 Thoughtseizes, including two off Nightveil Spectre, and two Duress in the Bw mirror.

Adam Barrientiez- For taking it all down.

Patrick Sullivan- For showing the power of knuckleheads.


Adam Barrientiez- For eliminating me. I mean, I know it had to be done for you to win, but sheesh.

Myself- For so many poor decisions made in the semi-finals to help eliminate myself