I opened up Twitter Saturday morning of Grand Prix Pittsburgh to read this Tweet from Christian Calcano:
Snakes. It had to be snakes? Although Mardu had placed 6 slots of the Top 8 of Pro Tour Aether Revolt, B/G Constrictor was going to be the go-to deck for many top players. I had been testing the week prior on late night Skype calls, slithering my way through B/G mirror matches and tuning my 75 for the weekend.
I shrugged my shoulders and walked around the venue as round 1 began, looking to catch up with a few friendly faces.
“You’re playing four Gifted Aetherborn??” I looked at Hunter with disbelief. “Yeah man!” Hunter smiled back. He always seemed to make weird choices in his decks, known for splashing up to two colors in his limited decks, but what authority did I have here? Hunter is a Grand Prix champion, he must have an inkling of what’s right. Sitting across the table from me was a couple of familiar faces, Bobby Fortanely, Dan Zhang, and Thien Nguyen – all who were in fact on B/G Constrictor. Although Thien’s group was all on the energy build, Hunter was all-in on the Gifted Aetherborn plan. I walked around a bit more before sitting down for Round 3. “What are you playing?” The answer, except for one or two Vehicles exceptions, was B/G. Commence Grand Prix Golgari!
Prepping for the GP, I had a few decks in mind that I wanted to play. B/G Constrictor was the obvious go-to because the synergies are just so powerful. Winding Constrictor into any creature that deals in +1/+1 counters seems like best thing you can be doing in Standard. I was interested in playing a Copycat variant, but after seeing the results from the Pro Tour, it didn’t seem like a deck that would perform well. After Mardu’s impressive performance at the PT was the deck to beat, so it didn’t make sense to play it either.
The only deck I really had in mind was some version of G/W Aetherworks (which I wrote about here), since it appeared to have a solid B/G and Mardu matchup. After some testing, I found the Copycat matchup to be un-winnable, so I didn’t want to throw away a whole matchup in the Grand Prix, especially if Saheeli and her cat performed well in Day 2.
My friend Kamil and I had been testing all week on Magic Online, basing our B/G Constrictor list off of Brad Nelson’s from the Pro Tour. The only real change we made was adding two Fatal Push and cutting down a Murder and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Cutting on a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner seemed like a solid change since we expected many copies of Walking Ballista in the room, and 4 Fatal Push gave us a way to deal with an early Winding Constrictor and aggressive white creatures without falling behind.
Here’s the list we settled on for the tournament:
B/G Constrictor by Roman Fusco at Grand Prix Pittsburgh
Kamil and I felt pretty confident going into the event. We expected B/G Constrictor and Mardu Vehicles to be the top contenders (which was exactly the case.) After some testing, we knew to bring in Ob Nixilis Reignited, Gonti, Lord of Luxury and some amount of Transgress the Mind in the mirror and against Mardu we also brought in Transgress the Mind to help pick apart their plan of playing an assortment of planeswalkers post-board.
Day 1 went pretty well. It was the most prepared I’ve felt for a constructed Grand Prix in a while, and I finished the day 7-2. My only losses on the day were to Brad Nelson (praise be his name), the guy who’s deck we used as our outline, and Anand Khare, who ended up making Top 8 the very next day. Both matches were mirrors and I felt disadvantaged in each.
Anand was on 3 Gifted Aetherborn, 1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow and had access to Noxious Gearhulk, Gonti, Lord of Luxury and a second Ishkanah, Grafwidow post-board. The mirror can lead to some grindy games if you don’t dismantle your opponent with a quick Winding Constrictor draw, and Anand’s deck was clearly prepared for the mirror in both of those regards. Two copies of Murder mainboard also help protect against Gearhulk-heavy draws from your opponent, which can sometimes blow the mirror match wide open.
At the end of Day 1, I felt pretty good about our 75, although I felt the deck needed more reach. Something like a Murder, Ruinous Path, or Noxious Gearhulk maindeck would’ve made my mirror matches more favorable I think. I had games where I felt severely behind if my opponent landed an 8/8 Verdurous Gearhulk and I was Gonti-less.
Day 2 did not go as planned. I started the day off 2-0 against Mardu and 4-Color Saheeli, but the wheels came off after I lost two mirror matches, one against a more delirium-based build, and also to U/R Control. Some mulligans, one-landers, and mana-heavy draws led to the ultimate unfortunate turnout of 10-5. I didn’t play perfectly, nor did I think my 75 was where it should have been. Kamil and I came close, very close. But we needed to go a little farther – an extra Murder or two, Noxious Gearhulk, or maybe scrap our plan entirely and go for a delirium strategy which seemed fantastic in the mirror.
Maybe Hunter was right, four Gifted Aetherborn was really insane after all. Well, I finished my round 15 early to find Hunter sitting in the feature match area – his board: A Gonti, Lord of Luxury and two Gifted Aetherborn staring down a lone creature (I couldn’t make out his opponent’s card, but it didn’t look like it was giving him any help.) A few minutes later, a handshake extended, and I had witnessed Hunter Cochran make his way into another Grand Prix Top 8, the first being back in Montreal over the Summer.
Black-Green by Hunter Cochran at Grand Prix Pittsburgh – 6th
Hunter’s deck was sort of a mishmash of all the B/G decks. It had remnants of Brad’s deck from the Pro Tour but with the added spice of the four Aetherborn and even a Lifecrafter’s Bestiary main to give reach in the mirror match. Hunter showed up expecting to face the mirror all weekend and that appeared to be the case. Good on him, watching a friend Top 8 makes any GP trip all that more worthwhile, and I was glad I was there to give him another hug as he walked out of the feature match area.
Going forward into the brave new world of Aether Revolt Standard, I still think there’s a lot of innovation to be had. B/G Constrictor and Mardu Vehicles seem to be the top decks, but those aggressive strategies can be dismantled, especially by sweepers. But Roman, what kind of deck would that look like? Well…
G/W Marvel by Roman Fusco at PPTQ
This would be a good place to start.
Pittsburgh, it was fun, aside from a intense GP I was able to spend time with a lot of close friends, make some new ones, and eat multiple sandwiches piled with french fries and coleslaw. Magic will be on the back burner for me as the semester drags on, but when GP New Jersey comes around, you’ll be sure to find me at the top tables.