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The Rise of UW Ghost Riders

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About Julian Felix Flury

Julian Felix Flury
Julian Felix Flury

Julian Felix Flury is a competitive Magic player from Switzerland. He has been a fixture of the European GP circuit for a few years, accumulating many decent finishes. This culminated in the captaincy of the 2015 Swiss National Team. He enjoys brewing and thinking outside the box, and will routinely play his own decks if he thinks they're good enough. Also known by his Magic: The Gathering Online nickname "CharlieTheBananaKing" he regularly streams his matches on his Twitch channel.

The Rise of UW Ghost Rider

Last week I outlined why I like testing for Pro Tours despite not participating in them. I usually test together with my good friend Matthias. This time it was slightly different as I had two friends participating in Pro Tour Honolulu, so my testing meant something more than mere self-improvement. In this article, I’m going to outline the major breakthroughs we had during testing in chronological order.

A First Deck to Beat – Week 1

The first “good deck” we built was a red/green “Turbo-Emrakul” deck very similar to last season’s lists.

R/G Turbo-Emrakul by Julian Felix Flury

Colors
Artifact4
Colorless3
Green19
Land24
Red10
Converted Mana Cost
18
211
33
44
55
72
133
Type
Artifact Creature4
Basic Land13
Creature7
Enchantment4
Instant9
Land11
Planeswalker7
Sorcery5
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The major difference: instead of a few random Nissa’s Pilgrimages and Explosive Vegetations this list plays Chandra, Torch of Defiance as ramp spell and Nissa, Vital Force to complement a Planeswalker based midrange package. Chandra leads to some insane draws such as turn two Hedron Crawler, turn three Chandra, turn four World Breaker. World Breaker’s ability to target Artifacts makes the card much better than last season. This deck did it all, it destroyed conventional aggro decks with the combination of Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Kozilek’s Return. It also outgrinded any midrange or control deck thrown at it, at some point it beat a Ghirapur Orrery/Peace of Mind combo deck by casting seven consecutive Emrakul the Promised Ends. So why did we move away from this? Because we found ways to consistently beat it.

A Marvellous Approach – Weeks 2-3

“I think I finally built a good deck” my main testing partner Matthias, moments before sending me the following decklist:

U/G Marvellous by Matthias Nadler

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Aetherworks Marvel
Versions:
Kaladesh (Foil)

And thus, Marvel entered our testing gauntlet. The deck looked horrible on paper but played quite consistently even though we didn’t even have Contingency Plan yet. This destroyed the Red/Green deck mentioned above. However, it struggled versus hyper aggressive Smuggler's Copter decks. We decided that being straight UG was just the better deck than splashing red. The main reason for this was that hardcasting Kozilek's Return usually bought you about as much time as it lost you by not progressing towards either finding an Aetherworks Marvel or assembling enough Energy to go off. That meant the main advantage of Kozilek's Return was that it made sure casting an Eldrazi off of a Marvel always won you the game. This situation was sometimes relevant, but not as relevant as the loss of consistency in the mana base. Especially the two Nissa's Renewal and four Shrine of the Forsaken Gods package played out incredibly well. By far one of this deck’s biggest weaknesses are counterspells, and Shrines shore up your control matchups by letting you hardcast your Eldrazi much faster. Furthermore the Pilgrimage is a fine hit off of Marvel and will usually buy you enough time to hardcast any Eldrazi in your hand next turn. We spent a while tuning this deck versus aggro and it ended up doing reasonably well versus even that, so we thought we had likely created quite a good deck and we went on to try and beat it. At that point we had not yet started playing sideboarded games and we were worried about high impact sideboard cards versus this deck such as Summary Dismissal, Ceremonious Rejection and Lost Legacy. This made us wary about recommending to play such a deck at the Pro Tour.

Ghost Riders

During our quest to defeat Marvel we rediscovered Spell Queller. In unsurprising fashion “Delver” style decks (aggro with counterspells) matched up very well versus Marvel decks and Spell Queller was perfect for building such decks. Thus, we built the following deck, which we dubbed “Ghost Riders” for obvious reasons:

UW Ghost Riders by Julian Felix Flury

Colors
Artifact12
Gold8
Land24
White16
Converted Mana Cost
18
212
38
48
Type
Artifact8
Artifact Creature4
Basic Land13
Creature20
Land11
Planeswalker4
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This deck overperformed. Its nut draws were completely and utterly absurd and trying to win any sort of race versus Smuggler's Copter into Reflector Mage was hardly possible. As expected it demolished Marvel decks but we were surprised to also find it very effective versus the initial Red/Green deck. We thought that we had likely found some form of the best deck in the format.

Enter the SCG Open Indianapolis

The very predictable happened at SCG Indy, everybody played red aggressive decks with Vehicles. While we had those pegged as fine, they never amazed us during testing. The one deck that impressed us was the build of R/B Aggro that showed up:

RB Aggro

Colors
Artifact16
Gold4
Land23
Red17
Converted Mana Cost
18
214
313
42
Type
Artifact8
Artifact Creature8
Basic Land15
Creature9
Instant8
Land8
Sorcery4
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0
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5
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It seemed very powerful and well suited for beating any strategy built around creatures because of the ridiculous card that is Unlicensed Disintegration. We realised that this might be the most played deck at the Pro Tour and we also realised that “Ghost Riders” loses to R/B Aggro. As a result, we tried many different builds of U/W including ones with Elder Deep-Fiend and more midrange variants including Archangel Avacyn. While my intuition would’ve been to play U/W for its sheer power level and potential, my friends decided on R/B Aggro because they thought Marvel was going to be underrepresented. I agree with this decision; under uncertainty it is almost always fine to play what you think is the best deck.

On Control

We had multiple different control decks during testing. U/W, Jeskai, R/B, R/W (see last article) but the most promising we built was U/B Control:

UB Control by Julian Felix Flury

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Liliana, the Last Hope
Versions:
Eldritch Moon (Foil)

We built this fairly late in the process and it sometimes lost to aggro so this was not considered for the Pro Tour. Since Matthias wasn’t playing the Pro Tour and he loves control decks he jammed games with this deck anyway. “I only sometimes lose to aggro with this, Torrential Gearhulk is very oppressive and might be the breakout card of the Pro Tour” – Matthias, on the eve of the Pro tour. The presence of playable control decks in the format makes “Ghost Riders” even better, as the combination of resilient threats and Spell Queller does well against them. Of note: this deck is slightly worse versus hyper aggro than Shouta’s but it will win any control mirror because of Liliana, the Last Hope.

Pro Tour Results

Of course, “Ghost Riders” would have been perfect for the Pro Tour metagame, which included a lot of combo and control decks to feast upon. In fact, some form of U/W may be the best deck in the format. Out of only eight non-control U/W variants on day two, three of them were the only decks to end up on 9-1, a total six out of eight went 6-4 or better. This is an insane quota and the deck’s slightly off-the-radar success reminds a lot of Esper Dragons at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. What happened there was similar, ChannelFireball’s Esper Dragons put up insane numbers but never made it to the Top 8. The Grand Prix on the following weekend was then dominated by players who had picked up on this and learned how to properly play the deck. If my predictions are correct, we should expect the rise of some form of U/W deck at Grand Prix Providence.

As always, thanks a lot for bearing with me and stay tuned for my next article! Make sure to check out my stream where I’ll be streaming Standard decks regularly.

Julian

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