I arrived in Denver at 3am Saturday morning. I’d awoken 23 hours earlier in Saint Louis and driven to Kansas City, spending 6 hours with my grandmother, killing some of the best Barbecue in the country (Danny Edwards) and continuing my trip across 2 of the flattest states this nation of ours has to offer. As I left KC, belly-full of burnt ends, I realized what time it was, and that my initial plan of getting into Denver by 4 or 5pm for a final grinder/win-a-box wasn’t coming to fruition. I’d yet to play any sanctioned matches with my sword of choice for the weekend (R/W Tokens)—with this being the case I looked at the map of Kansas on my iPhone in hopes of finding a town large enough to have an FNM scheduled. It seemed my only valid options were Manhattan (“The Little Apple”) and Salina. 

I made the decision to pit-stop in Salina, which had me only had me waiting 45 minutes for an FNM to fire. The fact they were also holding a Theros block draft complicated my thought process a bit. I was tempted to draft the block of Greek Gods once more and runback R/W heroic. But I stuck to my guns and played my stock list of Red/White Tokens in the standard event. As I sat down to my first set of games my opponent stated that he hadn’t played any standard and that he might not be the best challenge to get geared up for the GP. We sat down and I cut his deck. He was on Sidisi Whip; he curved out perfectly and I remembered that I hadn’t shuffled his cards. I made sure to do so games 2 and 3, and made a mental note to be more diligent about randomizing my opponents decks properly for the remainder of the weekend. He beat me in three games (in turns for exact damage). Although I ended up winning the final two rounds, I got into the car, wondering if an audible to mono-red might be the right call. Luckily my podcast queue was in rotation (Limited Resources, Constructed Resources and the Brainstorm Brewery). Marshall’s re-rundown of “don’t be ROTY” talked the stupidity out of me. Sometimes you need to hear something 3 times for it to really take root. Dropping the deck because a lesser player got lucky and beat you, doesn’t mean you or your deck is bad, it’s just one result and you can’t take those results as the end all, be all—it’s just one outlier match. Red/White was what I came with and I was going to stick to it.

DAY 1:

At 7am I went downstairs to the kitchen table and sprawled my deck out—I couldn’t sleep due to a combination of residual coffee intake and excitement for the GP. It had been only 3 weeks since GP Baltimore and I needed my redemption. Baltimore was the worst. I’d never been out of Day 2 contention before round 8 or 9, and in Baltimore horrible luck and a lackluster pool had me out of contention by the end of round 5. 

I wanted a better way to deal with Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, deciding to add Hushwing Gryffs to the main. I decided I wanted better, more immediate ways to deal with planeswalkers, so I added a pair of Banishing Lights to the main and a Fated Conflagration to the board. I cut my Hordeling Outbursts to make room for the Hushwings—and with the outbursts out of the picture, I knew the stokes wouldn’t have the same explosiveness, so I cut down to two. With eight flyers in the build, and games potentially going longer, I felt like Ashcloud Phoenix was a good card for the weekend—I made the call to main deck three, putting my second Brimaz into the board. I (maybe wrongly?) cut my pair of sideboard Scouring Sands and played three Arc Lightnings out of the board, figuring that I could kill a Goblin Rabblemaster AND a token with them, or Sidisi. It worked a few times, but even though I only got a Hornet Queen with ETB played on me a single time and only faced two Elspeths, I wish I’d just stuck with Scouring Sands. It’s the only way to get out of un-winnable scenarios that Elspeth and Hornets can sometimes present.  I hadn’t been playing Heliod’s Pilgrim, but at the last second cut the third Chandra, Pyromaster to play one. It worked well, and was great to be able to tap out on turn four to play a creature, snag a Chained to the Rocks and cast it, but still don’t know why anyone would want four of them. As we walked into the GP I took the God’s Willing I’d been toying with running as a 1 of and shoved it, unsleeved, into my pocket, “I’m gonna be lucky because I have God on my side!” I remarked. The card remained in my shirt pocket for the remainder of the tournament.

Denver Boros

Main Deck (60)
Hushwing Gryff
Stormbreath Dragon
Goblin Rabblemaster
Seeker of the Way
Ashcloud Phoenix
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Heliod's Pilgrim
Chained to the Rocks
Banishing Light
Lightning Strike
Stoke the Flames
Chandra, Pyromaster
Temple of Triumph
Wind-Scarred Crag
Battlefield Forge
11 Mountains
Sideboard (15)
Arc Lightning
Glare of Heresy
Hordeling Outburst
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Fated Conflagration

RD 1: Bye. I played Ben Wood as a final tune up. He was on a bigger, control version of Abzan. We had a couple misplays (he didn’t see a play to minus his Liliana, find his Bile Blight, pay 2 life to use his Abzan charm to draw it into his hand, and use the removal spell to off my Rabblemaster). Good thing this round didn’t count. It would’ve been my first loss of the day. Ben barely missed day 2, as he had the unfortunate draw of David Ochoa for his day 2 win and in in round 9.

RD 2: 2-0 Played a newer player. He was on a sub-optimal build of Red/White that he’d built with the cards he had. Three Oppressive Rays is NOT the same as three Chained to the Rocks when it comes to keeping my Rabblemaster army under control. I gave him some tips, talked about Magic a bit and returned to sit by myself for a while between rounds. 

RD 3: 2-0 4-Color Sidisi, with three Soul of Theros. Thought my opponent might have been sneaking a look as he cut my deck. I asked him to please keep his eyes away “just in case”. He claimed he was simply trying to not fumble my cards while mash shuffling. Not sure I believed him. He told me not to worry, that he’d cut when he was done shuffling. He put my deck down, split it into 3 piles and attempted to place the top section back on top after cutting my deck into 3 sections. I noticed this, and asked him to cut once more and he obliged. It wasn’t the last time I’d catch some fishiness with randomization in Denver. Main deck Hushwing stole game one, and continued to put in work game two. He had the removal, and was able to gain some life, but in game two I drew three Hushwing, three Chains and three Rabblemasters. At the game’s conclusion, he looked at my side of the board and the graveyard exclaiming, “three of everything, really?” sometimes you run hot, I replied. Little did I know I was bound to “run hot” for most of the weekend.

RD 4: 2-0 The mirror, he was running a fairly stock list, with two Ride Downs out of the board. Gameplan in the mirror: win the die roll, stick a Rabblemaster first and win. So that’s what I did. I saw him at the end of Day Two, and he said the Ride Downs put in work with goblin tokens rolling over Wingmate Rocs and Rhinos all weekend. And I believe him, they weren’t in any of the online lists and I thought about playing a couple myself. No one expects anything out of your goblin token, I mean he has to attack… right?  He finished 11-4.

RD 5: 2-0 Pairings went up, I texted Ben and Dustin, “Table 1… is that good?”. I went to the top table, having not dropped a game and continued to not drop games. My opponent was on Blue White heroic. I believe it was this opponent who came to the table and shuffled the top half of his deck a few times, then shuffled the bottom portion a couple times, then with a final shuffle shuffled the sections together. This was a shuffling cheat that I’d heard of that used to be popular in draft, allowing a good distribution of mana to spells. I saw it and was sure to spend some extra time mash shuffling his deck because of it. Game one he dropped a threat. I removed it and proceeded to get there. Game two was one of the best games of Magic I’ve played. I found myself behind on board with a single Stormbreath Dragon and a Seeker to attempt to thwart his voltroned Battlewise Hoplite and another creature. I drew an Ashcloud Phoenix, and used its un-morph ability a few times to block and stay in it. But once my opponent had worked me down to two, I had to block with the morph and let him go. At the beginning of that turn I monstrous-ed the Stormbreath during his draw step with my newly found extra mana. He had himself up to 32 off Ordeal of Heliod and lifelink, and it looked bad, but top decking a second Stormbreath made it possible for me to swing with 1 of them and start pecking away. He continued scrying (and scrying and scrying, digging for his answer). Of course once I got him below zero, he flipped his top card, it was the Aqueous Form he’d been looking for—but sometimes you run hot.


Two Stormbreaths, and a couple lucky top decks pulling me out of a 32-2 hole.

RD 6: 2-1 Temur Aggro. I lost my first game of the tournament here. Pretty sure this guy was attempting to stack his deck, I recognized his single pile shuffle and pile shuffled his deck into piles of three and then mash shuffled it. Keeping an eye out for that kind of stuff is key to success at these tournaments. Keep people honest. Game two he pile shuffled my deck, that’s fine, I wasn’t trying to stack mine. This is the one time in the tournament I really needed the Hordeling Outbursts, so I brought them in out of the board and went under him.

RD 7: 1-2 Abzan Aggro. Chained to the Rocks is great against Rakshaka Deathdealer. Lightning Strike after they tap out to play him is better. But this is where I stopped drawing so hot. I couldn’t hit my fourth land drop for a stretch in game one; this deck really wants to chain two spells on turn four to be able to get ahead on the board by playing one of the bigger flyers (Ashcloud or Stormbreath) the following turn to race. Not being able to get a fourth land drop halts the deck’s tempo, which is why I was running 25 lands. Game two I had two lands in my opener. I played a temple, buried a non-land, turn two played a mountain, missed a land drop on turn three, had to discard my eighth card on turn four and five and drew a tapped land on turn six. Sometimes your run hot, until you don’t. GGs.

RD 8: 2-1 I played Angel, who occasionally plays at Twenty Sided Store. He was on Abzan Aggro. 

Game one I swung in with a Seeker, he declares no blocks and I attempt to trigger prowess with a Lightning Strike. In response he is a bit giddy to Bile Blight my Seeker, I take note. Towards the end of this game he went into his combat step and counted up my potential damage on the swing back, deciding to swing with his entire team and have a potential win on his following turn. He must have a removal spell, I deduct as he passed the turn back. I began my turn with a Lightning Strike already in hand. He was at nine and I had six points of attacking damage on board. I made the decision my only line of play is to attack with the team and hope that he’ll pass priority while holding up his removal in attempt to turn off prowess. I asked proceed to damage, and he confirms, dropping him to three. It worked, I entered my second mainphase and I played the bolt for lethal. I asked if he’d had the removal spell. He’d had it, but by not being greedy and pulling the un-needed trigger on prowess, he held up with it, and I stole a game. He won game two. I got there game threeand I had locked my first day two.

RD 9: 0-2 Jeskai. My only loss at this point was mana screw related, and I’m tired. I gave away game one quickly after keeping a four-lander. I then proceed to sideboard and snap keep a five-lander. He snap kicks the crap out of me. I play a scryland on my turn six and bury my single Fated Conflagration. It’s turn six, and I have a couple Chained to the Rocks, the board is clear, plus I badly need a board presence, I don’t need the Fated Conflag, I’m fine. I pass the turn back, he drops Elspeth and I nearly scoop on the spot. I didn’t know THAT was in there. 7-2 on the day, I promise myself to mulligan better tomorrow and get some sleep.

It had snowed a lot while we were inside slinging spells. I’d forgotten I was in the mountains. Shit. Ben and I scrape the car off and polish off some Sonic Burgers, then I chug at half-speed down the snowy highway to drop him off at his mom’s place in South Denver. I get back to the crash-spot and hang for a bit with Dustin and crew (who left after Dustin picked up his third loss in round seven) and then hit the hay.

DAY 2:

RD 10: 1-1-1 Steve Cahill on Abzan Aggro. In retrospect this round was kind of disappointing. We drew and I had him on the swing back. Over the course of the match I realized I’d put my sideboard cards in facing an opposite direction and told him this and looked through flipping them back to the proper direction. He called a judge over to look through the deck, trying to angle shoot me a warning—we did not get an extension. He flipped one of my cards up and saw it, then called a judge over on himself—we did not get an extension. Then in the third game we had a judge who was observing our match give me a warning for attempting to target a hexproof Fleecemane Lion (after his prodding, which was fine, it was my bad), BUT STILL no time extension. During game three I used Chandra’s +0 to clear three lands while using my draw step to also clear three more lands from the top of my deck. In turns he had me down to two, I had him at three; In my turn four I stupidly decided to swing with two of my three guys, dropping him to three (a meaningless, unimportant fact at this point) and allowing him to topdeck a removal spell to swing in and win. He didn’t top deck it, and I would’ve had him on the swingback turn six. I don’t know why I wasn’t playing for the tie, I should have been, but I felt like proving I had the W on turn six even though it meant nothing, and he wasn’t going to give me the scoop. That said, lesson one of the day—be diligent and GET TIME EXTENSIONS. If I had gotten an extension I’d have been 8-2 instead of x-x-1 and facing a barrage of Abzan.

RD 11: 2-1 Abzan Aggro. End of game one he’s at one I’m at 11. He swings in with a Deathdealer and Anafenza. I do the math. Two pumps from four available lands in the proper colors, he wins right? NO. Two of them were pain lands. BUT me being me (and having been the last match to finish last round), I say game two? He immediately scoops in a tenth of a second I say, “Wait, you don’t have it.” I hadn’t moved my graveyard, exile zones, tapped lands etc. Judges are called, callings are challenged. He gets that game. So I end up having to run it back and beat him a second and third time. No big deal, sometimes you run hot.

RD 12: 2-1 AJ Sacher on Abzan. It was a close three game set. In the third game I ended up keeping four lands and a pair of Ashcloud Phoenixes off my mulligan, knowing it’s tough to get up on me when I can fly over him and my creatures have a built-in card advantage. Sure enough my morph birds get there.

RD 13: 2-0 I don’t remember much about this match. I won quickly and found myself at 10-2-1, in 26th place, with an outside shot at top 8. My first day two and I’d been mostly dodging the gauntlet of pros at the top tables.

RD 14: 0-2 Ben Yu on Abzan Whip. He schooled me. I controled his board. He kept mine in check. He got to eight mana, and was able to play a whip and whip back a Hornet Queen. I had four mana on board and was worried about getting a fifth to be able to drop a Stormbreath I had in hand, so I ran out an erase, even though I had a Seeker on board and he was tapped out. I’d have been willing to trade the seeker for a hornet if I gained life on the trade, but instead I found myself with a worthless Seeker hanging out on board and a dragon that couldn’t fly around a team of deathtouch hornets when I drew my fifth land. That play was a punt. In another interaction during this deciding game two I stupidly engaged in combat hoping to remove a courser with an erase, triggering prowess; since we were in combat and he declared Courser blocking the Seeker, I obviously gained nothing. Even without my misplays, I don’t think I’d have had this match. The mid-range, whip versions of Abzan were favored, even with my outbursts sided in and Ben is a solid player with an excellent grasp of his deck. But I’m almost glad I lost this round. Ben won the final round after beating me here and finished in 9th place—brutal no Pro Tour spot AND no top 8—that would’ve sucked.

I found myself still at the top tables, playing Ben Wu.

I found myself still at the top tables, playing Ben Wu.

RD 15: 1-2 Nick Bonham on Abzan. This was a fun match, at one point he Thoughtseized, revealing two Stoke the Flames and a Rabblemaster—of course he binned the Goblin. A turn or two later I passed with four mana up. As he passed back I asked, my go “unless you want to stoke me,” he replied. “I didn’t get here by stoking all willy-nilly” I remarked. He and the judge chuckled. In game two, he swung with his Satyr, and I looked at my blocks and back to his board: three green/black lands, a Voyaging Satyr and two Sylvan Caryatid. “Not off double caryatid” I remarked as I looked at his white-mana-less board presence, and blocked his Satyr with my Rabblemaster. “I thought you were the one playing tokens” he replied coyly—he didn’t end up having it or a pump spell. The Satyr died.

In the second game I was able to hold up a Battlefield Forge and have him whiff on a Thoughtseize. With the R/W deck there is not much difference between having six or seven lands on the battlefield, and with seven only being needed to monstrous a Stormbreath, often times it’s best to just hold up land seven if you’ve played your hand out. We went deep in game three with both of us drawing so poorly I remarked, “glad you’re drawing the bad half of your deck as well.” We were in a top-deck battle. In the final turns of the match we drew into heat, with me playing Banishing Light on his freshly played Nissa. I chained his forest 4/4, and we reconfirmed with the judge that if it were to return to play it would be simply a forest. His glare of heresy brought back his Nissa, making a 4/4 to swing with another of his lands, allowing him a raid-triggered Wingmate Roc. I had my second Banishing Light ready for Nissa and even a Chained to the Rocks for original Wingmate Roc, but a second Glare of Heresy had him making yet another hasty 4/4 forest, which was enough for the win.


The weekend in Denver was my most successful weekend playing Magic by a long-shot. I ended up finishing 64th with a 10-4-1 record, the last player with a 300 dollar payout (had I beaten Nick I’d have ended up around 28th). It felt good to play so well and finish so highly after the debacle that was GP Baltimore. But since then I’ve been on somewhat of a tear—I’m in the midst of a run of 28-8-2 in sanctioned matches—pretty good.

I hadn’t played much standard since Khans came out (only two sanctioned FNM’s and a GPT before Denver), but the format seems diverse despite the fact roughly half my GP opponents were on Abzan. I’m really looking forward to Fate Reforged shaking things up a bit—the new cards seem strong, and I’m sure a few decks will improve greatly with the influx of powerful new options (Monastery Mentor I’m looking at you). I’ll be looking to play more standard in the coming months and can’t wait to see what this deck in particular continues to evolve into. But for these final few weeks I’m going to enjoy this Standard format, because there are a ton of viable options. This past Friday I finally did get a chance to audible to that mono-red list that I’d been thinking of switching to in Denver, and ran it to a 4-0 finish at FNM, because, hey, sometimes you run hot.

Quint is a player who plays with many of the Hipsters at 20 Sided Store in Brooklyn. He played from 1994 through 2000 and returned to the game a week before Theros prerelease in 2013. He has steadily improved his game since then, reaching a level of play he’d never reached in the 90’s. The game has changed a lot since 1994, but Taiga into Kirid Ape is still his favorite turn 1 play.

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