Last weekend the Magical world descended upon my new home of Denver for the first grand prix of 2015. I’d never played a Standard grand prix before, but the new year seemed like the perfect time. Learning Standard has been part of my preparation for Pro Tour Fate Reforged, even though that is a Modern tournament, because I felt it necessary to get familiar with game planning and sideboarding in constructed. Plus, this Standard format is a lot of fun.

It is too bad Grand Prix Denver wasn’t actually in Denver, though. This is a regular occurrence on the grand prix circuit, but it never ceases to disappoint me. I love to visit cities and experience their downtowns. Grand Prix Montreal was a lot of fun because it was at the downtown convention center, and Philadelphia is well known as the best place to hold an event, right beside Reading Terminal Market. If Grand Prix Denver had been downtown at the convention center, everyone could have said hello to the giant blue bear statue. But instead we had to trek out of town to some place somewhat near the airport. I suppose it was closer for people flying in (the Denver airport is in the middle of nowhere) but nobody got to enjoy downtown Denver. With the snowstorm that hit town, everyone was stuck out on the outskirts. It’s too bad.

Anyway, back to the tournament. I decided to keep playing Sidisi Whip. The deck is humorously considered public enemy number one, just because Shahar Shenhar and Brad Nelson won the two small-field championship tournaments last month, even though both Shahar and Brad have said they don’t think the deck is that great for a more diverse metagame. I just think the deck is a ton of fun to play. Here’s what I submitted:

Whip Smart

Creatures (22)
Sylvan Caryatid
Satyr Wayfinder
Courser of Kruphix
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
Doomwake Giant
Hornet Queen
Pharika, God of Affliction
Soul of Innistrad

Spells (14)
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Whip of Erebos
Thoughtseize
Murderous Cut
Hero’s Downfall
Lands (24)
Island
Swamp
Forest
Polluted Delta
Opulent Palace
Temple of Malady
Temple of Mystery
Llanowar Wastes
Yavimaya Coast
Mana Confluence
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard (15)
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Disdainful Stroke
Bile Blight
Sultai Charm
Pharika, God of Affliction
Reclamation Sage
Unravel the Aether
Drown in Sorrow

This is basically the same deck I’ve been playing for months, modeled on the deck Willy Edel played at Grand Prix Santiago. Adding Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth as the 24th land makes a lot of sense despite it sometimes helping fix your opponent’s mana. I prefer the third Polluted Delta over an Evolving Wilds because Sidisi, Brood Tyrant is good to play early, but with only three lands to fetch, the Urborg makes the extra fetchlands useful as swamps. The pain lands and Mana Confluence also benefit.

I decided to play one Pharika, God of Affliction in the main deck to have some trump in game one for Whip of Erebos mirrors. Pharika plus Doomwake Giant is the best way to win those matches. I had two flex slots left in the main deck, and I wanted to run a threat that worked on a different axis from the graveyard. Thus I put two Kiora, the Crashing Wave in the main deck. Kiora is great in board stalls, hoses heroic decks, and does something different that people might not expect.

After my two byes, I started the tournament against Abzan Whip. I lost game one to running Siege Rhinos, but turn three Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver won game two and Disdainful Stroke kept me ahead in game three. The powerful sideboard is one of my favorite parts of the Sidisi Whip deck, and it really shined here. 2-1 in games, 3-0 in matches.

gp denver

The inside of tournament halls all look the same.

In round four I faced the four-color Whip deck. Once again I lost the first game and then came back to win the other two. Both games two and three I won using Pharika, God of Affliction plus Doomwake Giant and a ton of land to clear my opponent’s board. My win in game three came on turn four of turns. 2-1 in games, 4-0 in matches.

At this point I’d played two pseudo-mirrors that had taken the entire time of the round. I was hoping I’d play some other decks so I might have time to go eat. Matt Sperling showed up in round five to oblige me, wielding the popular anti-whip deck Abzan Aggro. Game one I mulled to six and then flooded out, letting Matt crush me easily. In the second game, Matt flooded and I Thoughtseized twice. That was enough to win, although I got some style points by playing his Wingmate Roc (with raid) using Ashiok. Game three I mulled to six again, and while my draw was better than game one, it was still not enough to stop his strong aggressive draw. 1-2 in games, 4-1 in matches.

I always enjoy playing pro players because I want to test myself against the best. Some are better than others to actually play against, though. Some pros (and non-pros too) are total jerks in game, playing fast to rush you, or rudely not talking at all, or talking too much. Matt, however, was a real pleasure to play against. Considering his off-field reputation as a rabble-rouser, I was pleasantly surprised. He seemed like the perfect testing partner and I would definitely enjoy working with him on a team. This made it easy for me to root for him the rest of the way, and he never lost a match until the finals of the tournament. Thanks for the great games, Matt, and congrats on your second-place finish!

Round six was a fun one. I got to play against Mardu, which is a nice matchup. I had an interesting spot in game one. I was at 4 life with Whip, Satyr Wayfinder, and Kiora, the Crashing Wave at five loyalty (not yet activated) on board. My opponent had a 3/4 bird token and three open mana. I had four untapped lands, but one was a Polluted Delta. I could whip back Hornet Queen, but to do that precombat I had to drop to three life off the fetch land, and I didn’t want to die to Lightning Strike. I needed to get the hornet tokens, though, so I could afford to get a Kiora emblem instead of locking down the potentially lethal bird token for another turn as I had been. So instead I attacked with the Wayfinder to go up to five life, then whipped the Hornet Queen post-combat. Then I removed all loyalty from Kiora for her emblem and made a 9/9 kraken. It turns out kraken tokens are pretty good with Whip of Erebos, and I won a couple turns later. Game two we both had removal-heavy hands, but I was able to make a couple zombie tokens with two Sidisis and use them to deal most of the damage in the game. 2-0 in games, 5-1 in matches.

denver snow

I won round six quickly enough that I had time to trudge through the snow to a nearby Subway for food.

Round seven I faced another deck I was excited to see: Esper Control. Game one, I Thoughtseized early and saw Treasure Cruise and two Dig Through Time. I didn’t draw enough pressure and lost to that card advantage. Game two I resolved a Whip and used it to grind out victory. Game three I landed an early Sidisi and protected her and the tokens with Thoughtseize and two Disdainful Strokes. 2-1 in games, 6-1 in matches.

Now I needed only one more win to notch my first constructed grand prix day two. Round eight I faced Ben Weitz, who was a member of the second place team at Grand Prix Portland, losing to the Peach Garden Oath in the finals. He was playing Jeskai tokens. I consider that a pretty good matchup, although the deck is so powerful that in capable hands it can be tough to beat. Game one my turn two Satyr Wayfinder whiffed on lands. I ended up a land behind all game and died to a massive Goblin Rabblemaster aided by Hordeling Outburst. If I had one more land, I could have whipped back Sidisi, activating Pharika, attacked with both to gain eight life, and still had a black mana left to kill the Rabblemaster with Murderous Cut. Instead, I had to try the whip plan without the Cut, and two removal spells later I was dead from a 14-point goblin attack. Game two he got Goblin Rabblemaster plus Jeskai Ascendancy going. I played Hornet Queen. Then he used Anger of the Gods and cast two more spells with it on the stack to pump his creatures enough to survive the Anger. Then he attacked me for a ton. I had Drown in Sorrow to clear the board, but my life was too low and I died to burn before I could rebuild. 0-2 in games, 6-2 in matches.

In the final round I faced local player Logan McDougall running Abzan Whip. A mirror match was not what I wanted to play to make day two. In game one, he drew Whip and I didn’t. Game two he drew Pharika the turn before I could ultimate Kiora, letting him clear my board with snake tokens plus Doomwake Giant and then bust through to kill Kiora. It was a good match but I definitely drew worse and there was not much I could do. I congratulated Logan on day two and packed up my stuff. 0-2 in games, 6-3 in matches.

I ended up so close to advancing. In the end I finished in 181st place, with the best tiebreakers of the 6-3 players. I felt like with a little better luck I would have advanced, and I was generally happy with my tournament. Sidisi Whip is a blast to play, which helps in a long tournament. I am confident playing constructed tournaments now, and I can’t wait to get some Modern practice next week at Grand Prix Omaha. See you there!

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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