I agonized over my decklist for GP Louisville for the week leading up to the event. To be honest, I wasn’t 100% comfortable with my numbers until Friday afternoon. Given my finish, I ultimately settled on something that was very good for the event, but that doesn’t mean that my decklist was perfect. This article is going to be long and really look in detail at how I painstakingly built my deck for this event. If you want to skip to analysis of the event itself and my comparisons to Craig Wescoe’s deck, skip down to the first horizontal line. If you want to see where I think the format is going and my recommendations for the future, skip to the second horizontal line.
Let’s start by looking at what I settled on:
Phil Gallagher, 48th place GP Louisville
Any good decklist needs to be built for the metagame for a specific weekend. By the time a decklist is published publicly, it is likely outdated. I built this list expecting the following to be common (in rough order of expected popularity):
BUG decks (Shardless, Delver, Leovold decks)
Sneak and Show
Other Delver decks (UR, Grixis, 4-color)
Looking generically at these matchups, Eldrazi and B/R Reanimator are unfavorable, while the rest of the field looks positive. I need to make decisions that allow me to beat Eldrazi and B/R Reanimator while also not significantly decreasing my matchup percentages against the rest of the expected decks. I also need to have enough generically good cards to adjust my deck against the randomness a GP can present in the initial rounds.
Let’s start with the lands. I recently had been advocating going down to two copies of Karakas. The deck is more mana hungry than ever with the printing of Recruiter of the Guard, so drawing the second copy of Karakas does feel pretty bad. Some players, Bahra, for example, have even gone up to the 24th land to cast the constant stream of cards and gain a little extra utility. Given that Sneak and Show and Reanimator are much easier matchups with Karakas in play, I opted to run the third copy this weekend.
After that, the deck can afford 2-3 flex slots. I like the stability basic Plains offers, so I only run two flex lands. The primary front runners were Cavern of Souls, Mishra’s Factory, and Horizon Canopy. I expected Miracles to be the best performing deck of the event, so it’s better to either make my creatures uncounterable or to have an extra threat stapled to a land. Given how blue my prediction for the metagame was, double Cavern of Souls seemed correct. I also would not have blamed someone for running three flex lands and running one of each, though I never think Horizon Canopy is correct given how much Burn tends to appear on day one of a GP. I also dislike Horizon Canopy more and more as our deck gets more mana hungry.
That brings us to the creature base. I think the following is the untouchable core:
D&T Creature Core
3 Mother of Runes
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
4 Stoneforge Mystic
2 Recruiter of the Guard
1 Sanctum Prelate
3 Phyrexian Revoker
That left me with five slots to consider. I feel like it’s important to have some number of true finishers in the deck. Going too far down the hate bear line can leave you with an inability to close out games quickly or push damage through a stalled board. Given the expected popularity of BUG decks, double Mirran Crusader seemed like an obvious choice. Mirran Crusader also has the potential to close the games the quickest when paired when equipment, a trait that I very much value in a GP field where you might get paired against the weird stuff early on in the day. I rounded out the third slot with a Serra Avenger, as it pushes damage better in the mirror and against random things like True-Name Nemesis; it also is a great pivot card off Vial which can quickly move us from a defensive to offensive role. Two slots remain.
I want one more defensive card for the deck. That means either Mom #4 or Sanctum Prelate number two. Mom #4 is subpar against Eldrazi and Miracles, but strong in the mirror and against the BUG decks. Sanctum Prelate #2 is amazing against combo decks, Miracles, and Lands in particular, but will raise my curve a bit; it performs poorly against Shardless in most cases, as their varied mana costs make it difficult to shut off multiple angles of attack. Given that I previously made a choice that improved my Miracles matchup, I opt to run the 4th Mom.
That leaves the final slot of the deck in question. I had not done anything to improve the Eldrazi matchup yet. That means I really want something that hedges against that matchup. There are three real choices here: Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Banisher Priest, and Palace Jailer. THC, while being great against Eldrazi specifically, has proven to be very underwhelming in the post-Conspiracy 2 world. It comes down too slowly to matter on the draw in many cases, and it doesn’t do a ton unless accelerated out early. It also is very poor off an Aether Vial.
So Banisher Priest or Jailer? While the cards look similar, their functionality is completely different. Banisher Priest is a tempo card. You seek to quickly remove a threat or blocker so that you can finish a game. Banisher Priest is at its best when backed up by a Mother of Runes or protected by equipment since it is soft to removal. Palace Jailer is a control card. You want to become the monarch and turtle up. You will eventually drown your opponent in cards or press their resources so tightly that they lose to the insurmountable advantage. You can blink Palace Jailer for absurd value, but losing the monarch status will likely lose you the game. Palace Jailer is going to be soft to decks that can flood the board with many disposable creatures (e.g. Young Pyromancer) or to decks that can deploy haste or flash creatures which can threaten to steal monarch status.
Banisher Priest is a safe choice. Palace Jailer is the high-risk, high-reward choice. I opt for Banisher Priest so that I can always safely leave my Vial on three for the Eldrazi matchup and so that Banisher Priest will always be a live draw. I found that Jailer sometimes required me to wait a turn to tick the Vial up to four or that I sometimes needed to wait for the 4th land. I didn’t want to take the chance that I’d end the game with it in my hand (or that I’d lose the monarch status and hate myself), so I played the objectively less powerful card. In talking with various D&T players over the course of the day, the majority of them had *very* positive experiences with Jailer though, and I’ve had plenty of amazing games with it myself during testing.
That brings us to the sideboard. Most of D&T’s sideboard is fixed at this point. Given the expected presence of Reanimator, my flex slots were going to be dedicated to additional graveyard hate. In my mind, the choice was between Faerie Macabre and Surgical Extraction. Against R/B Reanimator specifically, Faerie Macabre is much better. It gets around the tax of Chancellor of the Annex and also plays around your opponent dumping two creatures with Faithless Looting and following up an Exhume. However, against most of the rest of the format, Surgical Extraction is going to have much more utility. Faerie Macabre has the random upside of being tutorable with Recruiter, but when you are really going to need to tutor that up over Containment Priest if you’ve safely made it to that stage of the game? I opt for a package of 2 Rest in Peace, 2 Surgical Extraction, and one Containment Priest. I really wanted a second Containment Priest, but I wasn’t willing to drop any of the other cards for it.
So, how did my called shots go? Eldrazi performed worse than I expected, but I was otherwise on point with my predictions. That left my decklist in a great position for the weekend. Speaking of decklists…
Craig Wescoe, Top 8 GP Louisville
For those of you with your pulse to the D&T community, this is very reminiscent of the decks Enevoldson has been recommending recently. It’s very apparent that Enevoldson and Wescoe were considering all the same issues I was. While Wescoe came down on the other side of the debate in both the instances of Surgical vs Faerie Macabre and Palace Jailer vs Banisher Priest, he just opted to hedge in different directions than I did. The real differences are in two other choices, his decision to run a Relic of Progenitus over the second Rest in Peace and his decision to run a Spirit of the Labyrinth.
D&T has a relative lack of good options if you want to run a two drop in one of the flex slots. SotL is a fragile body, but one that serves similar roles to Thalia and Revoker. That is, it provides a hateful effect that limits the opponent’s ability to do their traditional role. I haven’t played SotL since the Treasure Cruise era, as I find it just tends to die and grow the Tarmogoyf by two. It does, however, have real value as a tutor target for matchups like Elves and Omni, so it’s really a reasonable inclusion.
I don’t like Relic of Progenitus, but I think that’s because I play the card differently than Enevoldson does, who has been running one for years. Based on what I’ve read, he boards in Relic as a colorless cantrip in many matches where the traditional core of the deck is weak. He uses it as a substitute for weak maindeck cards which sometimes need to come out, but other options aren’t that great. I like the hard hate of Rest in Peace over that versatility, and I don’t like leaving up mana to pop Relic.
In testing for the GP, I imagined that some sort of Leovold, Emissary of Trest deck was going to be the breakout deck of the event. Various 3-4 color versions had been popping up here and there, but I wasn’t quite sure which version was going to stick Let’s look at our new boogieman.
Reid Duke, Top 8 GP Louisville
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Noble Hierarch
4 True-Name Nemesis
2 Leovold, Emissary of Trest
4 Force of Will
1 Murderous Cut
3 Abrupt Decay
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Sylvan Library
2 Tropical Island
3 Underground Sea
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Polluted Delta
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
2 Pithing Needle
2 Mindbreak Trap
1 Surgical Extraction
2 Dread of Night
1 Painful Truths
1 Nihil Spellbomb
This deck seeks to power out a powerful turn two play off a turn one mana accelerator. A simple plan, but one that is problematic for our deck. True-Name Nemesis has always been a problem card for our deck, as it stalls the board AND murders us when paired with equipment. Leovold’s 3/3 body similarly stalls the two power toughness creatures of our deck, while also dampening the impact of Wasteland and Port. Even a turn three Jace can sometimes be crippling on one of our slower draws. The sideboard also includes some hard hitters like Dread of Night and another copy of Jitte. I’m not actually sure why the Dread of Nights are necessary; I imagine this deck does very well against us, but it may be hedging against the generic popularity of D&T at the moment more so than out of a need for the cards to win the matchup. If this deck catches on in popularity, it likely means bad things for us. Other than the obvious, let’s look at why.
Our flex slots are going to line up poorly against this deck. Serra Avenger flies over True-Name, but can’t defend against a Leovold well; it won’t even trade with Leovold if the opponent has a Noble Hierarch for an exalted trigger. Mirran Cruaser walls or attacks through Leovold, but is stalled by True-Name. Banisher Priest performs poorly against Leovold, and Palace Jailer is very sad in the face of True-Name. Oh…that’s not good! Furthermore, this deck is a perfect shell for a Fatal Push or two once Aether Revolt is legal, and that card is going to answer everything in the deck except Crusader.
If I were going to play in a big event next weekend, I’d probably flip-flop the numbers of my Mirran Crusaders and Serra Avengers and call that good. Since the deck runs four True-Names and only two Leovold, it’s more important to push the aggression in the air. A stalled game is just going to give them time to find Jace or Jitte. If Eldrazi continues to perform poorly, I’d also be comfortable dropping the Banisher Priest from the deck for another relevant body. I could then be on a 2-2 or 1-3 Crusader and Avenger split. A one-of Restoration Angel might not be the worst idea either, as it could ambush Leovold and still fly over True-Name; it would dodge the Abrupt Decays in the matchup like Crusader, though it would be more vulnerable to Daze.
If this deck becomes a substantial portion of the metagame moving forward, going to the third Cavern of Souls and a Scrubland or two to run a singleton Orzhov Pontiff out of the sideboard is reasonable, as is switching one of the Paths out for a card that can answer True-Name cleanly such as Blessed Alliance. On the equipment front, you usually fetch SoFaI against True-Name decks to push damage, but both sides of the trigger are a losing proposition against Leovold. Accordingly, I’d consider Sword of Body and Mind as tutorable card that gives both True-Name and Leovold fits; it offers both sets of protection that you would want for the matchup while also not triggering Leovold.
Yup, I did just end an article by saying SoBaM was potentially good. Deal with it.