Wait, you’re playing what? – SCG Phoenix: Standard Open

Well, SCG: Open Phoenix has come to a close and to the winners goes the spoils. I was fortunate enough to attend this event, and even more fortunate to end with a Top 64 rank at, by the skin of my teeth, number 64. This was my first event outside of the usual Wednesday Night Magic and an occasional FNM at my local shop Amazing Discoveries in Tucson. As an MTG player of average skill, I went into the event with hopes of having a good time, meeting some great people, and maybe winning some games along the way. Needless to say, I was not disappointed! I thoroughly enjoyed myself, my opponents were fantastic, and I ended up with a final record of 6-3 and #64 out of the 341 players attending the Standard event.  What a day!

Now let’s get to the fun part. What deck did I run? What were my opponents playing? Were the match-ups what I expected? Most importantly, what changes would I make to the deck were I to play it again in a similar event. Let’s get to it!

The Deck

Before we get started, let me be honest with you. I am a control player. The brutality of an old-school “permission” deck thrills me and I can scarcely keep myself from brewing up a control deck for almost any event. However, with my recent infatuation with the world of Standard format Magic, I have been learning about the importance of the meta-game and building meta-game specific decks. After watching hours of SCG Open footage, I quickly came to the resolution that the control archetype was not the most appropriate deck to play for this event due to the recent dominance of aggro decks in the format. It wasn’t that I thought it was impossible for a control deck to win; indeed Esper Control made 10th and 11th place at SCG Phoenix. I just wanted to find a deck that had a great aggro match-up, a good control match-up, and answers to the decks I was most likely to see at this event. It was then that I stumbled upon my deck. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce…Hippoblade?

That’s right! Hippoblade! Originally piloted by renowned brew-master Caleb Durward, I took the deck and tweaked it ever so gently to fit the meta-game that I expected at SCG: Phoenix, and it performed beautifully! Here is the exact 75:

Creatures (8)
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Solemn Simulacrum
Wurmcoil Engine
Razor Hippogriff

Spells (26)
Origin Spellbomb
Glinthawk Idol
Sword of Feast and Famine
Sword of War and Peace
Day of Judgement
Oblivion Ring
Red Sun's Zenith
Timely Reinforcements
Galvanic Blast

Land (26)
Clifftop Retreat
10 Plains
Ghost Quarter
Buried Ruin
Sideboard (15)
Celestial Purge
Grafdigger's Cage
Gideon Jura
Hero of Bladehold
Divine Offering
Revoke Existence
Oblivion Ring
Timely Reinforcements
Sword of War and Peace

Looks a bit janky doesn’t it? It’s not. The idea behind the deck is to use evasive creatures and Swords to swing through for major damage with a back-up plan of Wurmcoil Engine and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite in case things don’t go quite your way. If you find yourself a few damage away from a win with no board presence you might happily topdeck a Galvanic Blast or Red Sun’s Zenith and bring the game to a close. The deck was tweaked to face an expected tournament meta of Delver, Wolf Run Ramp, some control, R/G Aggro, Frites, RDW, and maybe some Heartless Summoning. Let’s take a look at the decks I faced down and see how this list performed under pressure!

The Games Begin

Match #1: Hippoblade vs. U/W Delver

The chatting begins with my opponent and I discover that he is a grinder, hailing from Baltimore and that he attends many large events in an attempt to satiate his appetite for the competitive aspect of the game. We both keep our openers and he wins the die roll. The conversation screeches to a halt as he plays an Island followed up by the feared turn one Delver of Secrets. I draw a Galvanic Blast and drop a Mountain, however I do not burn his creature until I see if it flips. I have a Whipflare in my hand in case things go sour. Upkeep: no flip for delver. This continues until a full eight turns later when his delver manages to flip and swing in, being followed by a Geist of St. Traft. Unfortunately for my opponent, by this time my board state is a solid 2x Glinthawk Idol, 1x Sword of War and Peace, and 1/1 myr token.  During my turn, I Whipflare, wipe his board and swing for lethal damage. Game two sees my opponent muuligan down to four, and me resolve a turn four Hero of Bladehold, a turn five Sword of Feast and Famine, a turn six Wurmcoil Engine. Match one is in the books with a 2-0 win for Hippoblade.

Record 1-0.

Match #2: Hippoblade vs. U/W Delver

I see the opening Island and Delver of Secrets from my opponent and feel confident that my deck can outperform the dreaded match-up again in brilliant fashion…if only I can draw a red source! As the turns go by, my opponent flips his Delver on turn two, drops Geist of St. Traft on turn three, and Sword of War and Peace on turn four. C’mon Mountain, I know you’re in there somewhere! Draw: Day of Judgment; that might work! I cringe as it runs directly into Mana Leak and I fall to an equipped Geist the next turn while I have had 2 G-blasts and a Whipflare almost the entire game. Game two find me being hounded by spirit tokens and swords as I am helpless without my Ghost Quarter to stem the tide until I stabilize. One turn away from casting Elesh Norn, my opponent finishes me off. U/W Delver takes the match 2-0 and I trudge away from the table.

Record 1-1.

Match #3: Hippoblade vs. Haunted Humans

I win the die roll and keep a solid opener, my opponent does the same. I turn one an Origin Spellbomb and my opponent answers with turn one Champion of the Parish. Wait, humans? Is that still a thing? Clearly, the Haunted Humans decklist continues to be a formidable 75, although it has not been showing up too often at major tournaments. At 7 life, I resolve a Wumcoil Engine. His reponse: Oblivion Ring. My Reponse: Oblivion Ring your Oblivion Ring! His response: Oblivion Ring your Oblivion Ring. My response: die. Game two went his way as well with two Honor of the Pure and many spirit tokens thanks to my Day of Judgment. Curse you Moorland Haunt! Where are my Ghost Quarters?! Game two gets swept to my opponent as Hippoblade takes another 2-0 loss.

Record 1-2.

Match #4: Hippoblade vs. U/B Zombies

While the rest of my friends were sporting 2-1 or better records, I slumped into my seat hoping for a match that would give me a win and keep me in the running for a Top 32 seat. My opponent is on the play and drops a turn one Gravecrawler, getting a sigh of relief from me as the zombie matchup is greatly in my favor. I play nothing and let him resolve another crawler, and two Diregraf Ghouls. After he is out of a hand, I find a Day of Judgment and clear his board, myself sitting at 11 life with a full grip. I resolve an idol, a Sword of Feast and Famine, and start going to town. Chalking it off to too many land draws, my opponent concedes after I resolve a Wurmcoil Engine and we go to game two. The second game sees a bit more of a fight from my opponent but ultimately leaves me with a 2-0 victory and lifting my spirits a bit higher. There is only so much a black deck can do against Sword of Feast and Famine!

Record: 2-2.

Match #5: Hippoblade vs. U/W Delver

This was my favorite match of the day. My opponent was a very nice guy and we bantered with each other as he continued to play threats and I continued to wipe the board unhindered. Finally, I am at 9 life and on a two turn clock facing down a flipped delver with no flying blockers of my own. I taunt my opponent “Play a geist! Play of geist!” Not one to disappoint, my opponent plays a Geist of St. Traft and passes the turn. “Wow,” I say, “a Whipflare would be really good here.” I proceed to rip a flare from the top of my deck and clean the board up, ultimately coming to a win from 1 life, praying that he did not find a Vapor Snag to kill me. Game two finds me again at 1 life and praying to the Magic gods that he doesn’t find a Vapor Snag. After a three Ponder dig, he finds nothing, and next turn I resolve  a Timely Reinforcements to put me at seven, although I don’t get any tokens out of it. I’m able to find a Solemn Simulacrum and finish him off with a 2/2 beat down. I leave the table with a 2-0 win.

Record: 3-2.

Match #6: Hippoblade vs. U/B Control

As a primarily U/B Control player, I played game one with resentment and anticipation, knowing full well the damage that the deck can inflict. Sure enough, I fall to a Karn Liberated, Consecreated Sphinx, and Grave Titan. Ouch. As I reach for my sideboard, my opponent informs me that he will be making “no sideboard changes.” What? Really? Okay, awesome. Have fun with my Grafdigger’s Cage, Hero of Bladeholds, Oblivion Rings, and Gideon. Game two saw me swing through for major damage with no answers to my resolved Hero. Game three (yes, finally, a game three!) was much closer. As I counted my deck and realized I had only 12 cards left thanks to his Nephalia Drownyards, I prayed for a miracle. That miracle came in the form of a third Galvanic Blast. “Attack step.” I say, and send in Gideon Jura and Glinthawk Idol. They crash in for 8 damage. Tap Mountain. G-blast for 4. Tap Mountain. G-blast for 4. Tap Mountain. G-blast for 4. My opponent looks at his hand. “Well, you have plenty of mana available for my Mana Leak. So…I guess I’m toast.” Success! Thanks Brian Kibler for showing me that move! I steal a 2-1 win over my favorite deck and send my opponent to the losing tables.

Record: 4-2.

Match #7: Hippoblade vs. B/R Zombies

Another zombie deck! Terrific! As my opponent’s undead horde races across the battlefield for my brainsssss, I manage to stem the tide with, no joke, three Days and both Whipflares. As he struggles to find a zombie and bring back his Gravecrawlers from the yard, I rip a Wurmcoil Engine and win the game handily. Game two sends me an opening hand of 3 land, a Solemn Simulacrum, 2x Celestial Purge, and An Origin Spellbomb. I’ll take it! The turns pass, each one sending my ever-cheerful opponent to a more and more inevitable defeat as I purge two Falkenrath Aristocrats and a Geralf’s Messenger, swinging back for lethal damage with my (you guessed it) 1/1 myr token. Well, he did have a Feast and Famine in his hands. But does that really matter? After many laughs, my opponent informed me that “was the most fun losing” he’d had all day. Mission accomplished.

Record: 5-2.

Match #8: Hippoblade vs. Heartless Summoning

This match was rough. To start, it was against my friend from my local shop Anthony Turner, an experienced player and an overall great guy. Congratulation to Anthony for getting 12th place! I went into the tournament knowing that my deck performed relatively poorly against Heartless Summoning and hoped I would not have to face it that day. When I saw the turn two enchantment, my heart sank. The game ended swiftly with a Wurmcoil Engine and two Phyrexian Metamorphs from Turner staring my down. I quickly opted for game two. After a mulligan to 4 from Turner I felt confident that I could bring home the win. Yet, as these things often do, the game spiraled out of control as I could not for the life of me draw a burn spell to drain his last 4 life away. He found his Heartless Summoning, another Wurmcoil, and a Steel Hellkite. I was ill-equipped to handle these threats and lost the match. Disheartened that I was out of the running for Top 32 but glad for Tony, I prepared for my next and final match of the night.

Record: 5-3.

Match #9: Hippoblade vs. U/B Control

Eager to re-play my last match against this deck game one saw me smash in for a quick win off the play as my opponent could not find an answer to my Glint Hawk Idols. When he finally did manage to Doom Blade them away, it was too late and his 8 remaining life drained quickly to “solemns with swords.” On the draw in game two, I kept a solid hand of 3 lands, 2x Glint Hawk Idol, Grafdigger’s Cage, and Sword of Feast and Famine. My sword was hastily Mana Leaked, but my hawks got it for substantial damage, dropping him to 4 life. My opponent resolved a Sorin Markov and put him to 6 loyalty, gaining 2 life, and then blew both my hawks away with a Ratchet Bomb. I drove a Red Sun’s Zenith down Sorin’s throat next turn and shuffled it into my library only to draw it again and burn my opponent out for his remaining 6 life points, ending game two. Triumph! I win 2-0.

Final record: 6-3.

MVP’s and Looking Forward

After a long day of Magic, Hippoblade brought me a Top 64 finish and some really great matches. I was almost always pleased by its performance and my losses were mostly attributed to misplays and keeping bad hands. I hope I can learn from those mistakes for next time. I wanted to talk about a few of the cards that I felt were the most important to the deck, and then changes I would make to the deck were I to play it again at an event.

  1. Galvanic Blast: This card blew away delver, champions, planeswalkers, and life totals all day! It’s one of the main reasons this deck has and aggressive aggro matchup.
  2. Whipflare: This little guy was always a great answer to an early Geist of St. Traft or too many zombies. The fact that it can clear your opponent’s board without hurting your guys is invaluable as well.
  3. Buried Ruin: This land is boss! Re-buying Wurmcoil Engines for power, Solemn Simulacrums for land and card draw, or countered swords was amazing and often let me win a war of attrition against my opponent, finally gassing his hand.
  4. Sword of Feast and Famine: This card was fantastic and as I expected a fair amount of black/green decks to be in circulation. I much prefer the benefits of this sword than the R/W one.
  5. Razor Hippogriff: This card is fantastic! It kills delver and wurmcoil tokens, blocks spirits, gains life, it flies with swords, re-buys your graveyard, and it only cost 5. I’m down for that.

What changes would I make in the future? First of all, three Grafdigger’s Cage was a bit much. I never sided in more than two.  Instead, I would run another Revoke Existence to help with Heartless Summoning and swords. Second, I would perhaps switch out Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite for a Kuldotha Phoenix. It is faster and persistent, which fits the theme of the deck. Elesh Norn is amazing, but she often gets removed very quickly. Also, with such an aggro-dominated meta right now, a mid-range deck such as this could use a lower cost, faster, flying, persistent creature. Regardless of the changes I make, I look forward to playing Hippoblade in the future with increased success.

Well, that’s all for now folks! Thanks for reading! I hope to see you around the shop and maybe play few games. Take care!

Jake “Steimtime” Steimer