0

This time is a bit of a challenge for me, article-wise. I haven’t played enough Modern or Standard lately to say anything confidently about the formats. Plus, my lovely editor is going on vacation for the next two weeks at the time of writing, so any advice I could give would no longer be up to date by the time this article is published anyway. A new exciting set is on the Modern Horizons, but as I’m typing, most of the set hasn’t been spoiled, so I’m not sure what I could have to contribute aside from obvious statements like “Sunbaked CanyonSunbaked Canyon is good for Burn” and “Scale UpScale Up will make Infect faster”.

Instead of pouring useless words down your drain, I’ll instead use the time to share some light-hearted and arguably more useful stories from my past. Specifically, some of my favorite Standard decks I’ve played in tournaments and the history surrounding them.

I realized that these decks combined tell the tale of how I launched myself onto the pro scene, so not only do they paint a picture of how the Standard format evolved in the 2014-2016 era, it also shows how I grew as a player with the people around me.

World Magic Cup Qualifer, August 2014

This deck was my flesh and blood

We start in the summer of 2014, when I was still a hopeful FNM player who rigorously watched all the coverage. I was driven by the sudden early Pro Tour success of my good friend Martin Müller who would be the captain for Denmark at the World Magic Cup at the age of 17.

Ghor-Clan Rampager from Modern Masters 2017

Ghor-Clan Rampager from Modern Masters 2017

GR Blood by Simon Nielsen

Creatures (33)
Elvish Mystic
Experiment One
Scavenging Ooze
Kalonian Tusker
Burning-Tree Emissary
Fanatic of Xenagos
Boon Satyr
Polukranos, World Eater
Ghor-Clan Rampager

Spells (5)
Flesh // Blood
Aspect of Hydra
Lands (22)
Forest
Mountain
Stomping Ground
Temple of Abandon
Mutavault
Mana Confluence

Sideboard (15)
Domri Rade
Skylasher
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Flesh // Blood
Polukranos, World Eater
Scavenging Ooze
Chandra, Pyromaster
Aspect of Hydra
Setessan Tactics

Theros Standard was a time where I’d go to FNM every friday and since the format was in such a way where the metagame didn’t really change that much for a year, everyone mostly stuck to their decks.
My good friend Lasse was very much into Red-Green beatdown decks at the time, and he was especially interested in using Flesh // BloodFlesh // Blood with Ghor-Clan RampagerGhor-Clan Rampager to just combo-kill people out of nowhere. He had already played a deck like that before rotation, and Theros gave us the opportunity to use a devotion theme and play Reverent HunterReverent Hunter as a giant 3-drop.

Once Born of the Gods released, Gruul SpellbreakerGruul Spellbreaker-wannabe Fanatic of XenagosFanatic of Xenagos entered our card pool and was a perfect opportunity to cut Reverent HunterReverent Hunter. That way, we could play Experiment OneExperiment One. With Aspect of HydraAspect of Hydra as a new additional pump spell, the deck was ready.

I played this deck nonstop in that format and absolutely loved it! I also got to know it very well, which was certainly an advantage in a format where most people had played their deck for the better part of a year. I didn’t have much success with GR Blood except for winning an 80-player side event at a Grand Prix (back when they had swiss rounds and a top 8), but I was still determined to bring it to the first of three WMCQ’s in Denmark.

Supreme Verdict from Iconic Masters

Supreme Verdict from Iconic Masters

It’s inexplicable how I did it, but in a field full of Lifebane ZombieLifebane Zombie, Tidebinder MageTidebinder Mage and Supreme VerdictSupreme Verdict I managed to cruise to the top 8. My version had been tuned well over the months and I knew exactly what I wanted to do in every matchup. I defeated Thomas Enevoldsen in the quarters, won my semifinal and got to face off against another good friend, Mads, in the finals.

We had met so many times in the finals of our FNMs (back then we even had top 8’s at our FNMs!), and since both of us were green to success, it was kind of surreal to suddenly play for a national team spot. This time I did best his UW Control deck and I was overcome with joy that I’d finally be joining Müller at a professional event.

This tournament win, however lucky it might have been, was the steppingstone to my career, and I’ll always cherish this deck for it. To this day I still love Llanowar ElvesLlanowar Elves-aggro decks, double strike combo and very proactive sideboards.

GP Stockholm, October 2014

A tale of countless battles

Goblin Rabblemaster from Magic 2015

Goblin Rabblemaster from Magic 2015

Countless Tokens by Simon Nielsen

Creatures (14)
Seeker of the Way
Goblin Rabblemaster
Eidolon of Countless Battles
Wingmate Roc

Spells (22)
Chained to the Rocks
Raise the Alarm
Lightning Strike
Hordeling Outburst
Ajani Steadfast
Stoke the Flames
Dictate of Heliod
Lands (24)
Temple of Triumph
Mana Confluence
Evolving Wilds
Battlefield Forge
Mountain
Plains

Sideboard (15)
Suspension Field
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Hushwing Gryff
Ashcloud Phoenix
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Magma Spray

Khans of Tarkir was released, the format rotated, and we geared up for the World Magic Cup in a couple of months. But first I had a Standard Grand Prix to play, and Lasse and I had found a sweet brew.

RW midrange decks with some token elements already existed in the format after Pro Tour Khans, but I realized that bestowing Eidolon of Countless BattlesEidolon of Countless Battles onto Seeker of the WaySeeker of the Way was a BIG GAME in this deck. It even gets pumped by your Chained to the RocksChained to the Rocks! And such, Countless Tokens was born.

I played the deck a lot online and my list got posted, which led to a big surprise as a couple days before the tournament I got a message on Magic Online from one of my biggest idols, FFfreak AKA Brad Nelson. And he was interested in my list!
I was so starstruck and amazed back then, and we spent a solid couple hours just ping ponging back and forth with ideas, opinions and improvements on the deck. In the end he ended up not playing the deck, but it was a solid confidence boost nonetheless. The very next day I got paired against Gerry Thompson on Magic Online and he also asked what Brad and I ended up doing to the deck.
Later in time, Brad and I would become friends when we ended up on the same testing team. I think it’s funny to think about how history works its ways sometimes.

Eidolon of Countless Battles from Born of the Gods

Eidolon of Countless Battles from Born of the Gods

In the end my friend Lasse and I ended up bringing the deck to the Grand Prix. Lasse was speeding up the standings while I was sitting with my back against the wall at 5-2 trying to win out. While I shuffle up for round 8, making small talk with my Swedish opponent, he gives me a salty bad beat story of how he lost to some stupid RW Tokens deck a couple rounds ago. It played so many bad cards like that white eidolon he couldn’t recall the name of.

I must admit it wasn’t easy, but I had to keep my face straight and act surprised that anyone could even win with such a pile, well knowing that I was currently shuffling an exact 75 card copy of the deck he was ranting about.

Game 1 I have a draw that just looks like the usual RW Midrange decks, so he still has no clue. In game 2 I get to a spot where I can bestow Eidolon of Countless BattlesEidolon of Countless Battles on a flyer for a surprise lethal damage. As I go to do that, I triumphantly exclaim:

“That RW Tokens player you were complaining about. Well, he is my friend and we play the exact same deck. And just for your information, he is still x-1!”
My opponent was visibly surprised as I attacked for lethal, but just cast a DemystifyDemystify on my Chained to the RocksChained to the Rocks to get back a Siege RhinoSiege Rhino, survive the attack and kill me on the back swing. He then also won game 3 to knock me out of contention. Why is there never any justice?!

Though he did find me during sunday to say that he thought my deck was better than he initially gave it credit for and even asked for my decklist. I count that as a victory.

World Magic Cup, Nice, December 2014

How teamwork prevailed

Whip of Erebos from Theros

Whip of Erebos from Theros

Abzan Whip by Simon Nielsen

Creatures (28)
Elvish Mystic
Satyr Wayfinder
Sylvan Caryatid
Courser of Kruphix
Siege Rhino
Wingmate Roc
Soul of Theros
Hornet Queen

Spells (9)
Commune with the Gods
Murderous Cut
Whip of Erebos
Banishing Light
Lands (23)
Windswept Heath
Forest
Plains
Caves of Koilos
Llanowar Wastes
Temple of Silence
Temple of Malady
Sandsteppe Citadel
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard (15)
Whip of Erebos
Nissa, Worldwaker
Glare of Heresy
End Hostilities
Reclamation Sage
Doomwake Giant
Thoughtseize
Duneblast
Read the Bones

Our team for that year’s World Magic Cup was staggering. Even back then before he was a Platinum Pro, Thomas Enevoldsen had a GP win under his belt. Martin Müller had played some Pro Tours and already seen success and our last member Lars Birch also had a handful of Pro Tour appearances.

I definitely considered myself the worst player on the team (and rightfully so), so I tried to make up for it by practicing a ton. I played through all the good Standard decks on Magic Online in order to gain an understanding of the format and figure out how to weave three decks into a Unified Standard deck selection.

Abzan Midrange and Jeskai Tempo were the two most popular decks, but if you showed up with both of those you basically didn’t have access to a good 3rd deck. Through our online play, Müller and I figured out that a version of UB Control by Adrian Sullivan with Perilous VaultPerilous Vault was a very underrated deck that could fit well and let Thomas utilize his control skills.

A recent GP in Santiago was won by Eduardo dos Santos Viera with a Whip of ErebosWhip of Erebos deck that was Abzan colors with Soul of TherosSoul of Theros rather than the usual Sultai builds with Sidisi, Brood TyrantSidisi, Brood Tyrant. I had the idea to add Wingmate RocWingmate Roc to that deck to give it more nut draws. It also fit snugly with UB Control and let Müller be on the recently popularized Mardu deck.

Duneblast from Khans of Tarkir

Duneblast from Khans of Tarkir

In the actual tournament you had to have a teammate sit over as the “coach” in each format, because only 3 people were playing the matches. Since I had played more Standard than anyone, we thought I might be more helpful sitting out in Standard so that I could give input to everyone. It ended up playing quite well where I’d mostly sit and play Abzan Whip with Lars. Thomas did not have time to play much Standard, so I could help out from time to time when he needed to know which cards his opponents had in their decks. And occasionally I’d move over and give sideboard suggestions to Müller. Most teams were just three people playing and one person watching, but we got to leverage the full team pretty well and that, coupled with absurd luck, allowed us to succeed I think.

The UB Control turned out to be a crazy good deck choice, and as we won our match into top 8 it was such a big moment. My first time playing at the professional level and we managed to get a top 8, qualify for the Pro Tour and even did it all while representing our country. For the top 8 matches, Lars was kind enough to let me play the Abzan Whip deck as I was trying to make a name for myself. That worked out pretty well, and honestly if you haven’t seen the finals of this event, you absolutely should. Marshall Sutcliffe and I did a great breakdown of the match here.

Pro Tour Fate Reforged, Washington DC, February 2015

My first Pro Tour experience

Living End from Time Spiral

Living End from Time Spiral

Living End by Simon Nielsen

Creatures (26)
Monstrous Carabid
Deadshot Minotaur
Street Wraith
Jungle Weaver
Architects of Will
Pale Recluse
Simian Spirit Guide
Fulminator Mage

Spells (15)
Living End
Demonic Dread
Violent Outburst
Dismember
Beast Within
Lands (19)
Grove of the Burnwillows
Verdant Catacombs
Blackcleave Cliffs
Blood Crypt
Overgrown Tomb
Godless Shrine
Stomping Ground
Vault of the Archangel
Forest
Swamp

Sideboard (15)
Living End
Ricochet Trap
Shriekmaw
Ingot Chewer
Blood Moon
Boil
Damping Matrix
Slaughter Games

This segment is somewhat different as this is not a Standard deck, nor one of my favourites, but it is important for the story. The format was Modern and Birthing PodBirthing Pod, Treasure CruiseTreasure Cruise and Dig Through TimeDig Through Time just got banned.

This led me to believe that BGx Midrange decks and Zoo variants would be very popular, so a handful of weeks before the tournament I locked in Living End to beat the expected metagame and spent my time learning how to play. I guess I could learn a thing or two from past me.

This was also the tournament where I realized just how bad I was at Draft. Us Danes spent a couple days in Washington to draft Fate Reforged with the Swedes, but in the first draft I went 1-2 including what I thought was a pretty lucky win. However, my metagame read was almost spot on, and I managed to close the day out at 3-2 to meet the bare minimum for Day 2.

On the second day, I once again went 0-2 in draft and got a bye this time. I was quite devastated, but Müller played a feature match against Zvi Mowshowitz so I spent my round in the viewing area watching this epic match. After seeing him win like that, I was pumped up and motivated to try and win my last 5 matches to secure an important 6 pro points. As fate would have it, I got paired against five BGx decks and crushed them all!

I missed prizes but was still very satisfied to go 8-2 in Constructed at my first Pro Tour. With 6 points from this event and 8 from the World Magic Cup win, I would only need to obtain 6 more points in the next 5 months on the GP grind to hit Silver and qualify for two more Pro Tours.

GP Paris, May 2015

The story of an international friendship

Deathmist Raptor from Dragons of Tarkir

Deathmist Raptor from Dragons of Tarkir

House Bant by Julian Felix Flury

Creatures (29)
Elvish Mystic
Sylvan Caryatid
Fleecemane Lion
Den Protector
Stratus Dancer
Courser of Kruphix
Deathmist Raptor
Whisperwood Elemental

Spells (7)
Mastery of the Unseen
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Disdainful Stroke
Lands (24)
Flooded Strand
Windswept Heath
Plains
Island
Yavimaya Coast
Forest
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Mana Confluence
Temple of Plenty
Temple of Mystery

Sideboard (15)
Den Protector
Dromoka’s Command
Valorous Stance
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Negate
Hornet Nest
Glare of Heresy
Plummet
Disdainful Stroke

I really love this deck, and this tournament including my preparation for it was one of my most relished Grand Prix experiences. Dragons of Tarkir had been released a month prior, Martin Dang won the Pro Tour with Mono Red splash Atarka’s CommandAtarka’s Command, Esper Dragons had a big breakout but was at time on a downswing as Abzan and Megamorph variants were taking hold.

For this event, I was working with my very good friend Julian Flury from Switzerland. I’ve met him through the Grand Prix circuit as we would often see each other around, and this was the year where we started talking more, also online and about other stuff than Magic. Since he seemed to be at about the same skill level as me, and just as motivated, he seemed like an ideal testing partner. So we put our thesis to the test for this event.

Julian came up with this variant of the Bant Megamorph deck that Craig Wescoe had done well with at the Pro Tour, but we leaned harder into the ramp element by playing Whisperwood ElementalWhisperwood Elemental and Elspeth, Sun’s ChampionElspeth, Sun’s Champion.

Mastery of the UnseenMastery of the Unseen and the megamorph package with Deathmist RaptorDeathmist Raptor made it quite easy to leave up our maindeck counterspells while we develop our game plan. Julian is quite good at building creature decks that have inevitability, and this deck is a prime example of that. We both ended up in the top 32 of the event, him at 11-3-1 and me 12-3. This gave me another 3 Pro Points, closing in on Silver.

Elspeth, Sun's Champion from Theros

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion from Theros

The very next weekend I went to Florence to play a Team Limited GP with Martin Müller and Alexander Pasgaard (one of the unknown best Limited players in Denmark, he has two GP top 8s so far). Once again it felt like I got carried by a team event, but I’ll certainly take it. Having powerful Magic players in your friend circle is certainly one of the best resources you can use to get onto the big stage.

We did lose our win-and-in into top 4 of this tournament (where this situation happened, though I still won my match), which left Alex and Müller a bit down. On the contrary I was ecstatic, because those 3 points were the last ones I needed to make Silver level! This meant I had an invitation for the upcoming Pro Tour in Vancouver as long as I could pay for my way there.

This is where I leave part one of my Origin story – at the moment where I qualified for Pro Tour Origins. Keep an eye out for the 2nd part of my odyssey through my favorite decks.

 

This article was written by Simon Nielsen in a media collaboration with mtgmintcard.com