Shockingly enough, Standard is not usually my “bag.”  I mean, the column is called “Hope Eternal,” not “Hope Constructed,” because I like Legacy and Modern!  They’re the formats for me (Vintage is degenerate and doesn’t count).  But Atlantic City is only a few hours away, and Dana grew up in South Jersey, so we committed to playing in the event, booked our hotel room, and waded back into Standard trying to find decks.  Dana was all over the place; I slowly whittled my options down.  I started with Junk Reanimator, but after being caught dead to Rest in Peace and Jace, Memory Adept before that was a thing, I moved on.  Bant was next, and while I liked the deck’s consistency I hated its inability to close out games.  I tried Jund, enjoying the aggressive aspects, but the deck was just too slow.  Finally, I moved on to Junk Tokens, testing against Flash and that stupidly powerful enchantment deck; I was not favored.  Here’s the list I put together Thursday night, and ended up playing:

BR Zombies

Creatures (28): 4 Blood Artist, 4 Diregraf Ghoul, 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat, 4 Knight of Infamy, 4 Geralf’s Messenger, 4 Gravecrawler, 4 Hellrider

Spells (8): 4 Pillar of Flame, 4 Searing Spear

Lands (24): 4 Blood Crypt, 4 Cavern of Souls, 4 Dragonskull Summit, 4 Rakdos Guildgate, 8 Swamp

Sideboard (15): 3 Liliana of the Veil, 3 Rakdos Charm, 1 Tragic Slip, 2 Ultimate Price, 3 Underworld Connections, 3 Vampire Nighthawk

Now, normally I have to sort out my list to make sure I have every card accounted for when I write up these articles.  This list doesn’t require that.  It’s like Quadlaser Dredge, in that it’s annoyingly consistent and it does what it wants to do incredibly well.  From my time spent playing Affinity I know how to play a grindy aggro deck; sure, some games you’ll just win, but it’s often getting that final five points of damage that requires skill.  I went with Blood Artist for reach and the mirror, and I never regretted it.  In testing I had found they were insanely weak to Rest in Peace, an unexpected vulnerability, but luckily no one ever thought to side that card in against me.  My low curve and four mana maximum cost meant that my spells were rarely stuck in my hand, and my choice of Liliana in the sideboard let me grind out a few control games I had no business of winning.

Round 2: Ryan, UWr Humans

I had a bye my first round, so I was pretty excited going into my first real match.  I had seen Ryan around at a few other GPs, and vice versa, but this was the first time we had played each other.  Game one was brutal.  Ryan dropped turn one Cavern for Bird, dropping a War Falcon, then a turn two Cavern for humans, dropping a Knight of Glory.  I took some damage, but a Geist was left stranded in his hand when he dropped his third land, also a cavern, and he was forced to name human when his fourth land turned out to be a Cavern.  He got me down to six life, but he was dead on board if he didn’t draw a proper land to answer my threats… and he top decked his singleton Moorland Haunt, to end the game in amusing fashion.

Game two was more of a fight.  Two Knight of Glories had been plucking away at my life total for several turns, when, in response to me tapping out for a Messenger, he dropped Bonds of Faith on one of the Knights, dramatically upping his clock.  With a Searing Spear in hand, I top-decked a Hellrider with mana enough to play both things.  I had him, as I could Spear the big one in response to his attack, and block the little one, but he landed Riders of Gavony naming Devil, and it was on to game three.  This one was over on turn four.  Turn one Gravecrawler, turn two Gravecrawler, Guildgate, turn three I dropped a Blood Artist, swung into a Knight of Glory, and then rebought my Gravecrawler.  Turn four I played a Hellrider, and while it took a few more turns to mop up, that ended the game.

2-0 in matches, 2-1 in games

Round 3: Chris, Value Junk Reanimator

I’m going to start condensing these matches, since many of them were less interesting individually.  I lost this one.  By a lot.  Which is totally fine, I knew going in that I was going to have some weak match-ups, and Reanimator certainly was one.  Game one I got trounced, but game two was spectacular.  My opponent went turn two Lotleth Troll, discarding two Angel of Serenity.  Turn two, he swung in, knocking me down to 16, and then in my end step he Grisly Salvaged, took a land and dropped Unburial Rites and Craterhoof Behemoth into his yard.  Turn four he reanimated the Angel to wipe my board, and turn five he cast a second Unburial Rites from his hand to get Craterhoof Behemoth for a proper overrun.  It was beautiful; I just wish I had been on the other side of it.

2-1 in matches, 2-3 in games

Round 4: James, GB Aggro

I am not convinced this deck is good in the hands of anyone other than Brian Kibler, and I suspect he wins through sheer force of will.  Game one I raced a Predator Ooze, dropping a Hellrider in the lategame to win while I was at nine life.  I sided in Lilliana and Tragic Slip for the Knight of Infamy, which became my strategy against most non-white decks, and then proceeded to annihilate my opponent with double Hellrider.  Trigger, trigger, trigger, trigger, as they say.  He had seemed safe at ten life before that; he wasn’t.

3-1 in matches, 4-3 in games

Round 5: Akash, Jund

Jund eats zombies for breakfast.  They have access to many of the same tools, but Jund has reach.  Plus, Jund lists run cards that are really good against me, like Sever the Bloodline!  I got blown out by that game one, as he snagged two of my Gravecrawlers and then flashed it back for more value.  I won game two at 20 life, after assembling the machine gun of Blood Artist, Falkenrath Aristocrat and Gravecrawler (plus a zombie, here Messenger).  Not a lot of decks can beat that.  Game three, though, he got an Olivia out with access to seven mana, and that was it.  Not that I didn’t spend several more turns trying to dig for a solution; I even had to Pillar my own Messenger, which he had stolen, to try to buy another turn.  But Akash played tight, and that was game.  Fun fact: he won both the games he resolved a turn two Farseek!  It’s almost like that card is good or something…

3-2 in matches, 5-5 in games

Round 6: Edgar, UW Miracles

From here on out it was dreamcrushing mode.  No matter who won, someone wasn’t going to make it to day two, since the cut-off was two losses.  So, to find out I was paired against Edgar, against whom I have played in the past (a little notable for his past success on the SCG circuit before loose play got him banned for a while for cheating), was a bit disheartening.  He too seemed resigned; he plays at Twenty Sided Store from time to time, and while I’ve not had his level of success by any means, he knows I am not quite a scrub.  Game one I take with a Hellrider, and game two he takes after casting two Sphinx’s Revelations and flashing one back to cast a third time.  I might have been able to deal with his 19 life, but the flight of Angels I find myself facing is far too much.  Game three I get one of those hands where the damage just starts adding up.  There were multiple Gravecrawlers in quick succession, and he dies on the fifth hit.

4-2 in matches, 7-6 in games

Round 7: Allen, Naya

All Allen wanted to do was drop and gamble at Caesar’s Palace.  I helped him along.  Game one he kept a one-lander with a Pilgrim, and he scooped when I pillared it.  Game two he was on tilt, and kept another one-lander after a mulligan.  Zombie, zombie, vampire, dead.  Allen left in a weird mix of anger and glee with which I am not familiar.

5-2 in matches, 9-6 in games

Round 8: Michael, Esper Superfriends

My round seven opponent may have gone on a tirade about how he’d call anyone who gave him shit a faggot (have I mentioned I am queer?), my round eight opponent was a straight up dick.  Admittedly, I gave him grounds to be dissatisfied with his loss; I am not at all favored in this matchup, and I got there.  I scooped game one when he resolved a Sphinx’s Revelation with board presence, as I didn’t see myself winning that game and wanted to try again game two.  My sideboarding was weird.  I had been afraid of Rest in Peace, so I took out the Blood Artists, and maybe Pillars?  I brought in the three Lilianas, three Charms and the three Underworld Connections, and that’s what it came down to in the end.

Game two I dropped two early copies of Underworld Connections, and they won me the game.  Drawing three cards a turn is incredibly powerful, and it allowed me to win through the DOUBLE CURSE OF DEATH’S HOLD that I was facing down.  That should have been impossible, since it neutered almost every creature in my deck, but I just kept drawing cards, playing Liliana of the Veils (I saw all three), and keeping pressure on his hand.  I really took the game when I took out his graveyard with Rakdos Charm after he had been left without a hand; with no resources I could drop Geralf’s Messenger, dome him for four, and then swing in with my 2/1.  This put him on tilt for game three, and he Sphinx’s Revelationed at 6 mana instead of using Alchemy to draw a card.  I still think I had him, since I was slow-rolling a Messenger for the final few points of damage post-wrath, but afterwards he would only go on and on to me and Li about how I had only won because he made a mistake, did we know what mistake he had made, and, no really, I hadn’t won so much as he had lost.  I ventured, offering him a means to save face, that perhaps my tight play had something to do with my victory, but he wasn’t interested in giving me any credit.

6-2 in matches, 11-7 in games

Round 9: Sam Black, BR Zombies

So, I’m looking to see who I am playing for the win-and-in, and I see… Sam Black.  Noted pro player, writer for StarCityGames, and a guy who’s so familiar with Zombies as an archetype that he plays them in Legacy.  Some of my friends have had bad experiences playing against him, but I’m a weird mix of honored and terrified going into the round.  It didn’t really help that he was super silent; I like some patter, personally, but I get that it’s probably not the same sort of game for him that it is for me.  I take game one on the back of double Hellrider, while the only notable thing is that he played a Crimson Muckwader in his 60.  It seems like pretty awesome tech, but I beat past it.

At this point I feel like I can die happy, as at least I took one game against someone of that skill level.  Game two we’re both at 8 life when he resolves an Aristocrat for lethal, and I am more resigned than ever to not making day two.  Game three I am on the play.  My first hand is garbage, and my second hand is worse, before I keep a five-card hand to his seven.  I think it’s over, but I draw hot, ending the game relatively quickly with another double Hellrider.  Afterwards, Sam seemed shocked that he lost to a mull to five, and honestly?  He’s right to be shocked.  It was shocking.  But I got there, and with that I made it to day two.

7-2 in matches, 13-8 in games

Round 10: Matt, Mono-Red

From here it went downhill fast.  It’s the first match of “Day Two,” but it was 10pm on Saturday night still and I was beat.  So it was almost a relief to get matched against my worst match-up.  My removal is all one for one, and none of my guys are good on defense against aggressive red double-strikers.  He blows me out in two games.  Like, I don’t mean to minimize his play; he must have been good to day two with Mono-Red!  But he tears through me like my cards are tissue paper.  We’re both glad the night is over though, and we happily leave to go find our respective friends for dinner.

7-3 in matches, 13-10 in games

Round 11: Jesse, UW Flash

I tested this matchup a lot, and theoretically I am favored.  But Jesse gets the nuts games one and three, and plays it well.  There’s not much my deck can do against a well-protected Geist of Saint Traft, and game one he saves it with Restoration Angel and Unsummons, while game three he keeps it out of range of my blocker with exalted triggers from the Knight of Glory he’s sided in.  Game two I manage to beat past all that with the Artistocrat/Blood Artist machine gun, but it’s not enough to get there.

7-4 in matches, 14-12 in games

Round 12: Alex, Mono-Green Miracles

This round I am paired up in the last possible seat.  I figure out why quickly, as my opponent’s GB Aggro start gets kicked up a notch with two successive miracles: Revenge of the Hunted followed by Blessings of Nature.  That and a Rancor was good game.  I side in some Lillys, and then it’s off to game two.  Game two is a race.  He has an Ooze I can’t deal with and I get an Aristocrat he can’t block, and we hit each other in the face with a Blood Artist out until it looks like we have lethal on each other when we untap.  He’s within range of the machine gun, but without Gravecrawler I don’t want to spend my resources in case he has some trick; he looks like all he has is a 4/4 Ooze when I pass the turn.  End step he drops in Wolfir Avenger, and then he Rancors up his Ooze and swings for lethal.  I Ultimate Price his Wolfir, and in response he taps out to cast Sheltering Word.  In case you’re unfamiliar, it’s Ranger’s Guile with lifegain attached to it, which is doubly bad for me.  It would have won him the game, but the last card in my hand is Searing Spear, and I dodge under the spell to kill the creature, stop the lifegain, and gain a point of life to prevent his Ooze from being lethal.

8-4 in matches, 16-13 in games

Round 13: Frank, Awesome Jund

I lose in three.  Whatever, that’s not what was interesting about this round.  What fascinate me, and made me comfortable with losing the matchup, is the basic structure of his list.  It was only Jund in the strictest of senses, as he was maindecking three Mutilates, four Liliana of the Dark Realms and enough Swamps to support both of them.  It was basically a Black and Green deck with a red splash for Huntmaster and Kessig Wolf Run, but it played out really smoothly and he had a ton of mana on the board at the end of each game.  He beat me with a Kessig Wolf Runned Nighthawk game three.  I was at 18, I had knocked him down to eight but had few decent attacks with his Nighthawk neutering my alpha, and then he slammed the Run and gained nine life, switching our positions in the game.  I untapped, couldn’t find removal, and happily conceded to a cool deck well played.  With that, I was out of the running and tired of Standard, so I checked drop and left the Tournament.

8-5 in matches, 17-15 in games

So, I probably could have done better in the final rounds.  I ran out of steam.  But, you may notice, I never played the same deck twice; even the ones that were the same slice of the color wheel managed to play out radically differently, whether it was the difference between Flash and Miracles or the standard Jund list versus the sweet as hell Jund list that knocked me out in the end.  Standard is in a weird place right now; it is incredibly diverse, with no real obvious top deck, but it’s not a ton of fun still.  I don’t know how to fix the latter part, short of adding a viable combo deck to the meta somehow.  And don’t say “Burn at the Stake” or “Pillow Fort,” because Dana has played both of those and they’re hilarious, but not really viable.  Still, this was my third Grand Prix ever, my first with a bye, and my first Standard one.  Making Day Two… it felt really, really good.

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