Recently I’ve been making a push towards having a few more voices on Thraben University, and this week I’m very pleased to bring you some content featuring Pro Tour 25 Anniversary winner Allen Wu! Allen Wu is no stranger to the top tables of Magic events. He also won a limited GP in Albuquerque in 2016 and top 4’d a Modern GP in 2017 in Vegas. In addition, he also worked for WotC’s Play Design team. The answers that follow are his, edited slightly for clarity and formatting.
Why did you choose D&T for the Pro Tour? Was this a deck you’ve played for a long time or a deck you picked up specifically for this event?
I’ve played D&T for 3 years or so. I was looking to buy into Legacy and found someone selling the full deck on Ebay for around $1000, which seemed like a reasonable deal at the time. I actually wasn’t going to play this Pro Tour until Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe got banned since I had a flexible invite. I found a team primarily to play D&T in Legacy. If I decided the D&T wasn’t competitive enough after testing it, I would have played Modern and given Legacy to Greg Orange.
What did your preparation for the event look like?
I played maybe 30 leagues on Magic Online (~150 matches). I was actually the trophy leader for a couple days (my Magic Online handle is Avignon) before deciding that I needed to take a break before the Pro Tour. The main things I tested were the land count and configuration, the new cards, and the sideboard.
Did you test with any of the newer cards like Brightling or Remorseful Cleric? If so, what were your thoughts?
I tested extensively with Brightling and am fairly confident it’s bad. My main issue with the card is that it doesn’t have any kind of evasion, so it stares off against or trades for ground creatures that cost much less mana for it. The first time I had a Brightling and my opponent cast a Gurmag Angler, I was pretty off the card already. I had a Sword of Fire and Ice and still couldn’t profitably attack. Then I played a game where my opponent had 3 Bitterblossom tokens and my Brightling never meaningfully attacked or blocked the whole game. It doesn’t even win combat against Nimble Mongoose without help, let alone Death’s Shadow. The only matchup I’d prefer Brightling to Mirran Crusader and Serra Avenger is Miracles, which isn’t that prevalent. Crusader and Avenger are just more efficient and have more valuable abilities.
I didn’t test Remorseful Cleric at all, but the card also didn’t make much sense to me. I don’t think it’s a big mistake to play a Cleric or two, but don’t see the point either. I couldn’t imagine many situations where I’d tutor for Cleric instead of Palace Jailer or Sanctum Prelate with Recruiter of the Guard. It’s role also overlaps with Faerie Macabre after sideboarding, but Remorseful Cleric is just another 1-toughness white creature that dies to all the usual sideboard cards like Marsh Causalities, Sulfur Elemental, Dread of Night, and Liliana, The Last Hope. It’s a reasonable card to naturally draw but significantly worse in combat than Serra Avenger.
What sort of decks were you expecting to see at the Pro Tour and how did you tune your list for those decks?
I actually pinned the Pro Tour metagame down pretty well. I expected a lot of “fair” decks, like Delver, Grixis Control, Miracles, Eldrazi, 4c Loam, and the mirror. I was afraid BR Reanimator would have a strong showing, but didn’t think many players would actually show up with it. I expected Sneak and Show to be the most popular combo deck, and that relatively few people would play dedicated combo like Storm, Dredge, or Elves. I was actually a little concerned about Death’s Shadow before the tournament since so many people were playing it online, which I guess paid off.
Allen Wu, Winner PT25A, 8/5/18
You can mostly see those expectations built into my sideboard: 2 Path to Exile, 2 Gideon, 1 Containment Priest and Canonist, 0 Surgical Extraction, etc. My general approach with D&T is that you should bias your maindeck towards the matchups you expect to face least and your sideboard towards the matchups you expect to face most, since the white sideboard cards in Legacy are so potent.
In retrospect, I wish I’d played an even greedier list with 3 Revokers and a Serra Avenger, but I wasn’t comfortable going below 9 2-mana interactive creatures in the 75 against Storm for math reasons.
How did the Walking Ballista in the sideboard perform? Was that there primarily for the mirror?
It’s primarily for the mirror and decks with Baleful Strix, but there are also a number of decks where you’re happy to have a 2-mana removal spell for 1-toughness creatures. I board it in against Delver if they have Young Pyromancer, Bomat Courier, or especially Grim Lavamancer; it’s also strong against Infect, 4c Loam, and Elves. I also board it in against Miracles; games go long and they usually play around Wasteland, so having a card you can dump 8 mana into later on is pretty potent. It also punishes Miracles players who’ll go to a low life total against D&T, assuming you won’t have any way to win after they stabilize.
Ballista is just a really powerful, flexible card, and I think having access to 1 in the 75 is pretty mandatory with Recruiters. It does a lot more than you’d expect it to. For example, I had originally planned to board it in against Josh Utter-Leyton in the finals, boarding out all my Thalias, but convinced myself that I still wanted some Thalias on the play at the last minute. But if I’d had Ballista in my deck, I would have had an almost deterministic win with Recruiter of the Guard instead of needing to sweat my Palace Jailer draws.
Other than winning through triple Dread of Night, what were some of the most memorable or interesting moments from the event?
The triple Dread of Night game was by far the most engaging and complicated game I played the whole tournament. I went 10-4-2 overall, and my wins and losses were pretty much all straightforward. The only other particularly interesting game I played was in round 2 against Tom Martell, where his Dread of Night actually worked against him since it meant he couldn’t Reanimate my Mother of Runes. I eventually put Batterskull into play and attacked him to death with it.
What sort of advice do you have for aspiring D&T pilots or other serious players?
The biggest piece of general advice I have is to play 24 (or maybe even more) lands. With how prevalent Wasteland and Daze are in the format, how powerful the utility lands in Legacy are, and how badly D&T wants to hit its third and fourth land drops, I think playing 23 or fewer lands is lunacy. A part of me thinks that the optimal build of the deck has 26-27 lands, 4 Horizon Canopy, and 2-3 Mishra’s Factory, but I don’t have that much conviction yet.
Regarding piloting the deck, I guess I’d advise new players be cognizant of what your opponents are capable of and what interaction points you have. You almost never “bluff” with Aether Vial, but thinking of when you should and how you can is a useful exercise. For example, you don’t always want to Vial Thalia into play as soon as you can. Waiting for your opponent to pass with 2 mana for Abrupt Decay or Disenchant for your Sword of Fire and Ice and then putting Thalia into play to deny them that option is a lot more powerful than making their Ponder cost one more. And once that’s a part of your range, your opponents will have to respect your Vial activations a great deal more.
One interesting play that I’m still not sure about from game 3 of the finals is whether I should have put Mirran Crusader into play off Vial and equipped it with Batterskull on my main phase. It’s pretty clear at that point that his hand is blank (Dazes, Snuff Outs, maybe Street Wraiths, etc.). I don’t remember the exact details of the game off the top of my head, but the relevant cards he has left in his deck are 3 Wasteland, 5-6 cantrips, 1 Dread of Night, 1 Diabolic Edict, 4 Delver of Secrets, and maybe (but probably not) 1 Engineered Explosives.
- If he draws Wasteland so I can’t equip Crusader, then he just loses to reset Batterskull + Crusader, so Wasteland isn’t really relevant.
- If he draws Diabolic Edict and I pass, then I reset Batterskull, put Crusader in, sacrifice the Germ, and then equip Crusader.
- If he draws Edict and I equip Crusader, I think I’m busted.
- If he draws 3rd Dread of Night and I pass, then I reset Batterskull, my Crusader is blank, he Raise Deads his Angler, and I’m in a tricky spot but the game isn’t over.
- If he draws 3rd Dread of Night and I equip, then I win. He has as many Edicts as Dreads and only one of each, so the real questions are which play is better against Delvers and cantrips.
- If he draws Delver, it’s slightly better to reset Batterskull since he’ll have no outs after I reset Batterskull and Crusader hits him to 5, whereas he’d have another draw or two to hit Edict (with Liliana) against equipping Crusader.
- If he draws a cantrip, I think it’s also better to wait since he’ll likely keep a Death’s Shadow or second Angler if he doesn’t know the Crusader is coming, whereas equipping Crusader lets him know he has to find a Delver or Edict or he’s dead.
Because the Dread of Night-pass scenario is preferable to the Edict-equip scenario and it reveals less information, I still stand by passing. But given Josh did draw the 3rd Dread of Night and it’s such a complicated spot, I can’t help but feel like I’m missing something. I’m curious what other people think.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
Oh, I’d like to shout Jacob Nagro out for telling me to play 24 lands, give him shade for obligating me to play mismatching Plains, and thank the rest of the Nathan Smith Memorial chat for their conversation and support.
End of interview
Closing Thoughts from Phil
To the surprise of no one, D&T is unquestionably one of the best decks in the format currently. Marcio Carvalho also top 4’d the Pro Tour with a different take on the deck, gearing his sideboard *very* heavily to beat BR Reanimator.
Marcio Carvalho, Top 4 PT25A, 8/5/18
I don’t think there’s really a stock D&T decklist right now. Looking over the variety of different D&T decklists from the Pro Tour seems to support that. The format is very open, and you need to pick your battles. In building your lists for the coming weeks, especially for GP Richmond, I think there are two big questions to consider:
- How do I beat the expected hate cards that will become more popular due to D&T’s success at the Pro Tour?
- How do I gear my flex slots to beat the expected “tier one decks?”
You’ll need to have a plan to beat cards like Sulfur Elmental and Dread of Night. Make sure that you aren’t leaving in only one toughness creatures in your matchups, and playing some additional answer to a Dread of Night in your 75 probably isn’t a bad idea. I wouldn’t recommend going overboard on changes on that front though; tweaking 1-2 cards is more than enough.
As far as flex slots go, I’ve gotten a ton of messages about Brightling in particular in the last week or two. My thoughts haven’t really changed. I still think Brightling is an important and powerful tool for the deck. That said, Brightling isn’t the best against the black decks that are currently moving to the forefront of the format. Crusader will easily outperform Brightling vs decks like Grixis Control. That’s just factual and it’s not close. If decks like Miracles, Eldrazi, and Red Prison are super-popular as GP Richmond approaches, play a bunch of Brightlings and you won’t regret it. If decks like Grixis Control and UB Shadow are still popular, then load your decks with Crusaders and go to town. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, but Mengucci recently put out a Legacy Veedio with Brightling D&T, so that might be another nice datapoint for those of you on the fence about the card.
I hope we’ve given you plenty to think about in the coming weeks, and best of luck as you tweak your decks and prepare for GP Richmond and your other upcoming events!
Edit: A few days after this interview was published, Allen Wu wrote a blog post that elaborates a bit more on some of the questions. You can find that here.