Team Unified Standard RPTQ in Poland: Before and After

It's no secret that metagames change, that archetypes change, that some decks fall out of favor while others get a 'second' wind. It's all part and parcel of the game of Magic: The Gathering. Lee recently attended an RPTQ and here, he tells the story of how his W/U control deck changed with Dominaria.

Testing for a Magic tournament, while never easy, can be said to be at the very least a straight-forward endeavour. You're looking for the best 75 available, to suit your personal play-style, the meta game, and, if you're dedicated indeed, the best 75 for a Day Two appearance at whatever GP or PT that you're at. It gets a whole lot more complicated if the event in question sees a new set thrown into the mix, and if you need to find three decks instead of one… Welcome to Team Unified Sealed!

Prologue

Scarab God

It might sound somewhat dramatic, but the evolution of Standard over the last nine months has been nothing short of astounding. As 2017 was coming to an end, Temur Energy ruled the roost, so much so that if you were playing another deck and weren't effectively pre-boarded for the match-up, you were going to lose the vast majority of games. French pro Jean-Emmanuel Depraz conquered Warsaw with what was essentially Temur (with a teeny Black splash for Vraska and The Scarab God) while that same weekend Esper Approach won at GP Atlanta, but that was pretty much that for the deck. Rivals of Ixalan came out in January of 2018, and everything changed. Red-Green Monsters won GP Memphis, Mono Red triumphed in Seattle, and then after the release of Dominaria Black Red Vehicles took the honours in Birmingham, White-Black Vehicles was the Standard deck for the winning team at the Team Trios scuffle in Toronto, and Mono Red made it a brace in Copenhagen. Most recently, in Pittsburgh and Singapore, we saw Mono Red get its hattrick and UW God Pharaoh's Gift take gold at the hands of the ever-capable Yuuki Ichikawa.

Picking the Right Deck, Picking the Right Team

Drake Haven

Yours truly won the PPTQ for this RPTQ before Dominaria was released, with what was definitely the strongest deck at the time:

With a Team Unified Standard RPTQ in the future, the three decks to take were as clear as the clouds in the sky… The above Drake deck, UB control, and Mono Red. However, the RPTQ would require new decks, as the new set had most definitely made its mark on the format.

Before you can pick the right deck, you need to pick the right team. As the last person, regionally, to pick up an invite, I was short of potential teammates – obviously I would want players who could compete at the RPTQ, as well as at the Pro Tour should we make it through. The first call went to Léo Bartolomé, who I worked with while part of Mindsports Academy and who has since joined the Cardmarket family. Léo is a skilled Modern player, and a regular GP attendee. We had hoped to pick up another French player to take the 'Legacy' slot, but several were holding out until after end of season PPTQs and in the end a clash with our original RPTQ destination (Bologna) and GP Copenhagen led to some potential players giving a hard pass. But, a quick call to a friend in Team EUreka, and we had Marko Milivojević on-board. In the same way that dedicated pros will prepare their decks such that their choices should be the best deck in play on Day Two of a GP or PT, I wanted a team that could make Day Two of a PT.

Speculation aside, testing started in earnest once the full Dominaria spoiler was out. I was locked into a UW variant from the moment I won the PPTQ. It was Léo who put in the lion's share of the work, building decks for Magic Online, having listed all possible color combinations, all Dominaria-variants of existing decks and putting together a comprehensive Google Doc for the team.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria Approach of the Second Sun Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage

Once various archetypes had been eliminated from consideration, things started to take shape. A deck centered on Raff Capashen was toyed with, and you can see the decklist here. It was muck. That being said, there should be some steam left in the engine post-rotation, so maybe we'll see it again. Effectively a super friends deck, we looked at whether any Red-X 'Walkers might be at home in a similar deck, and the same with Green-X. Corbin Hosler had a Bant decklist doing the rounds, and Sam Black had tried running Gaea's Blessing in a regular UW shell, so as to recycle key cards over and over and to obviate the risk of milling before killing your opponent. This led to a mash of the two:

Although often being able to ultimate Ajani in order to give us a Teferi ready to ultimate on the turn he enters play (Ajani provides zero intrinsic threat, so in the same way end-of-turn card draw is usually left to resolve, so too is Ajani), we found that it just didn't work. The Green didn't produce enough pressure, as Ajani's +2 was only fetching other Planeswalkers and the various enchantments of the deck. It also often put needed lands to the bottom of the deck. Green's inclusion also meant sacrifices had to be made, and card draw was shelved accordingly. Later testing showed just how important that card draw was.

Then, Brad Nelson rocked up at PT Dominaria with W/U Approach. How could I not take a shot at one of my favorites? Clearing the Green out meant that Sultai was back on the table for the other team decks as well.

Marko had narrowed his choice down to a Black-Red Midrange deck, or a Mono Red build, and Léo was keeping options open, but leaning towards Blue-Black. Mono Red therefore got the nod, since it was favoured versus Black-Red and was fast enough to race control builds. This put us more or less in the same spot that we were in months earlier – a W/U deck, UB Midrange, and Mono Red.

A 3-0 start in Szczecin, losing a close match in Round 4 where our U/B midrange and Mono Red decks list, with my deck grinding out a Drake deck. We then made it to 4-1 looking to win and in, but alas, it was not to be. 3-0 into 4-3. To say we were disappointed was an understatement.

The Debrief

Rekindling Phoenix

For my part, the 75 was spot-on. Nothing would change if I were to run it back. The same was true for the other decks.  Although we weren't thrilled with our end-result, we're convinced that our choice was correct. If we were lucky in any of our games, it's because we put cards in our decks to draw them. By the same token, our opponents surely enjoyed similar luck on occasion.

The plan was to detail the sort of decks we might play at the Pro Tour if we had been able to progress, but… we didn't. However, allowing for Core 19 additions, I'd take the same deck with me. Here's the list:

Four distinct win conditions available, Teferi, Gideon, Approach, Rivulet, and a main deck Forsake, which proved immeasurable in value – able to deal with early Search for Azcantas, problematic Scrapheap Scroungers, or Heart of Kirans, and, if it does end up a 'dead' card in hand, it could be cycled readily.

If you're wondering how it played out, feel free to check out our Round 3 victory here, and hit me up on Twitter (@rightsaiddredd) or in the comments.

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