This 18 player event had a diverse metagame of control, midrange, tempo, aggro, and ramp. Combo was under-represented but this is pretty normal for Adelaide metro events (whereas our satellite city areas like Salisbury see a lot of Infect, Reanimator, and other combo decks). In terms of the Top 8 decks, Bant is clearly the new hotness, with 4 of the decks being GWU shells (two of which splashed a 4th colour; black or red).
More importantly, it is important to mention that the Top 8 was filled with Birthing Pod… 5/8 decks running the oft-forgotten 1-Point card! After a string of 1st places by Junk (GWB “Abzan” midrange) people are eyeing off how to go toe-to-toe or beat the old-school menace. This is why the decks that rose to the top in Top 8 are largely proactive midrange decks, 4-colour good-stuff decks, or can go over the top of Junk like AEldrazi Ramp or Miracles.
What were the AE Team on?
Beckett and I placed 1st and 2nd on a deck shell that we’ve been developing (apologies to all our opponents who were on the receiving end of Parallax Wave and had the dismal feeling of having to read that card and see the writing on the wall). Based on our playtesting, we found that Bant has some versatile applications of the GUx shell (see this deck tech), and we explored the control, tempo, and midrange angles until we found the best hybrid balance. The decks always started with a 4-point power card (Ancestral Recall or Time Walk), but we actively explored the un-powered design space too. Personally, I’m known for often suggesting un-powered versions of the decks that I play, and that I only brew with my A-call and Time Walk so much because I own them (playing with justifies keeping them). However I strongly believe that decks without Power are strong and have incredible game vs. decks with (the notion that ‘you must have power to play competitively in Highlander’ is very wrong).
So to prove the point I left my Power at home and decided to specifically play my un-powered Bant whilst Beckett played the powered version. We both placed 1st and 2nd on the day (4-1, i.e. 12-points). Likewise other ties include Raj and Michael at 3rd and 4th, again one of them on an un-powered midrange deck vs. the other on a midrange deck looping Power.
How to build good un-powered decks
The key is pressure. In most cases the weakness of a powered deck is their engine to eek out maximum value to justify the 4-6 Points they’ve spent on their blue power plus ways to recur it. Cards like Eternal Witness, Spellseeker, Jace Vryn’s Prodigy, etc. are great and all, but they do not impact the board in most instances. Hence my un-powered version of Bant seeks to play proactively, and eschew low-impact cards. Perfect example is how Renegade Rallier is so much better than Eternal Witness because of your ability to continually commit to the board and apply pressure whilst also gaining value, rather than seeking primarily value itself. This is why you don’t see Abzan playing Eternal Witness despite the classic staple looking amazing on the surface.
So for this event I sleeved up a Bant version that mapped Junk (GWB Midrange) as closely as possible, following the principles Dan Abraham and Drew Carter in their detailed article on deckbuilding theory. I swapped black for blue, but ensured that the blue substitutes matched the original role of each black card. My deck plays out almost identically to Junk(Abzan) Midrange, hence Junk taking a little sea change as it tips its toes into blue.
Key moments in the event
Every time my opponent durdled (including opponents on powered decks), I just ran over them. I was happy any time they tapped 3 mana to play either Spellseeker or Eternal Witness, and then invest more mana to play their Power (which they could never leverage because they were ALWAYS behind on board).
Key cards/principles in Junk’s Sea Change
Here are a few of my observations from playtesting and how the deck played out on the day:
- Mana dork into Oko is infinitely better than mana dork into Lili Last Hope
- Ice-fang Coatl is not the sacred cow I thought it was, and could easily be cut for something that applies even more pressure (but I had kept it as it fits nicely on Pod Chains, GSZ, and Fiend Artisan for value).
- TNN is something Junk never gets, and it is worth jumping to the sea change for it (and yes it’s worth the 2 Points, although Wasteland is the next best spot to put them for Rallier synergies, and you gain Karakas or Jitte in the process)
- Sevinne’s Rec is 100% a value card. Your Oko dies to Abrupt Decay in metas like ours, and paying 2W to have another Oko is amazing, as is returning two more things the following turn. The flashback is as backbreaking as Titania, which is what you want. Slightly less playable in Junk itself, as the blue critters are just so much stronger and worth returning. Returning to the board is much better (e.g. than Regrowth) for your tempo plan.
- Fractured Identity is the reason to be in UWx Midrange, not many other decks can play it (e.g. too high mana cost in Control) but Midrange accesses 5 mana bombs easily. Since you’re always on the front foot, removing their blocker and then having it is insane. Council’s Judgment is mediocre due to the tempo loss in casting a removal, but paying kicker 2 to put a copy into play… You don’t mind expensive removal because you spend turns 1-4 developing the board and getting ahead and rarely want to cast removal early. Whilst it looks like a sideboard card, you’ll rarely have a time there is no target, and if you’re playing vs combo it’s an easy board out.
- Mana Drain’s true home is in Midrange, where you leverage the bonus mana to punish your opponent. Drain can often act like Fractured (remove a powerful threat, play a threat) in terms of the tempo and board swing.
- Parallax Wave is my bae. I played it in my first ever deck (Junk) in 2013ish, and it is a pleasure to sleeve it up again finally. I’ve never been in a post-board game where drawing Parallax Wave has been bad. It is always relevant, all the time, and I can’t think of a game I have lost when I’ve resolved one…
- Tamiyo Field Researcher is my 60th card. I’m happy to sub it for anything else, e.g. a Vendilion Clique for more pressure or Tireless Tracker to do the same card draw role. I just like how her -2 shores up our weak matchups, like tapping down two eldrazi and winning by beats vs Ramp, or locking down two important permanents vs. a combo deck, again trying to kill them whilst preventing them enacting their game plan for 2 turns. You don’t really want to bring her in vs. those decks, but it’s nice to have a flexible main deck card that ticks a few boxes.
Anyway, in short, Power = No Power, so for players who cannot afford to buy blue power don’t go out of the way to break your budget thinking Highlander is a ‘need Power’ format!
“Junk’s Sea Change” is a fun way to play Abzan but with a few fresh alternatives that give it a twist. The decks can go toe to toe, so give it a go!
|Player’s Standing||Player’s Name||Player’s Deck List Link|
|1st||Beckett Wolfe||“Junk’s Sea Change” (GWU Midrange) – Powered|
|2nd||Sarven McLinton||“Junk’s Sea Change” (GWU Midrange) – Un-powered|
|3rd||Rajdeep Tokhi||“Junk” (GWB Midrange)|
|4th||Michael Hearn||“Kess Pod” (UBRG Midrange)|
|5th||Wil Sewell||“Bourbon & Broke” (WUR Miracles Control)|
|6th||Torin Kelderman||“AEldrazi” (Colourless Ramp)|
|7th||James Arthur||“Dark Bant” (GWUb Midrange)|
|8th||Dean Kolpin||“Omnath Pod” (WURG Midrange)|